Should we in Wichita or Sedgwick County be forced to recycle?
Prices for commodities and goods represent the best available information about the worth of them — that is, unless the government is manipulating prices. The prices people are willing to pay for recycled goods, therefore, tell us everything we need to know about their worth. These prices tell us that there isn’t much worth in most recycled goods.
It’s not that there aren’t markets for recycled goods. About 75% of automobiles are recycled, and used cardboard is often recycled in commercial settings. That’s because the price paid for these recycled items is high enough that, in the proper context, recycling can be profitable.
A household setting is different. Recycling of household goods, mostly newsprint, plastics, and glass, (aluminum cans being a possible exception) doesn’t pay very well. In fact, it costs households to recycle. The prices that recyclers can get for these recycled goods doesn’t even cover the cost of collecting them from households, as evidenced by the fact that in Wichita households must pay someone to pick up recyclables. People can deliver these items to recycling centers, but that involves significant cost to the household.
How much does recycling cost? Orange County in Florida spends roughly $3 million per year to collect recyclables, but sells them for only $56,000.
What about saving the environment through recycling? The contribution of household recycling towards this goal is not certain, once you look beyond the usual recycling propaganda and realize the role that prices play.
Running out of landfill space? If landfill space were truly scarce, landfill operators could charge high prices for trash disposal. But evidently, they don’t.
Running out of raw materials? That’s not happening. If raw materials were scarce, the price of recycled alternatives would increase. Instead, prices for most recycled goods are low and not increasing. We should be happy that raw materials are inexpensive and that manufacturing processes are efficient.
What this means is that household recycling doesn’t pay. Instead, it costs, and costs a lot.
If recycling is voluntary, each person can exercise their own judgment as to the value of recycling versus other activities. With forced recycling, people have to give up activities that they value more than recycling to comply with the mandate. Additionally, we have to pay recycling fees or additional taxes to cover the costs of money-losing recycling efforts.
Then there’s the recycling police. We have violent crimes that actually hurt people being committed daily. I think most people would rather have police focusing their attention on those crimes rather than inspecting our trash looking for the wayward aluminum can or newspaper.