The Political Economy of Recycling
Citation (Chicago Style): Landsburg, Michael C. Munger Edwar Melissa Walsh Innes Steven E.. The Political Economy of Recycling . , 2015. Kindle edition.
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Munger: zero waste è una poiltica irrazionale. anche quando l obiettivo primario è l ambiente... hume: r. può essere efficiente se inserito in un mix.pagare la monnezza è una buona soluzione... innes: responsabilizzare il produttore... landsburg: nn facciamo di r. una questine moralistica. l unica morale è quella che rispetta i prezzi. le altre corrompono ma soprattutto instupidiscono...
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Recycling: Can It Be Wrong, When It Feels So Right? by Michael C. Munger
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Zero waste isn’t a good policy goal.
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Munger offers a tour of the economics of trash
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irrational even when our highest priority is saving the environment.
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Humes argues that recycling is indeed economically efficient,
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occasional exceptions does not disprove
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recycling should be the last line of defense in our solid waste management strategy:
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Reductions in packaging, better incentives, and “pay as you throw”
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in favor of “extended producer responsibility”— a
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promoting recycling as a moral issue has a sinister cost:
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It encourages the public to view policy questions moralistically.
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morality, he says, let us preach the morality of respecting price signals.
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Recycling: Can It Be Wrong, When It Feels So Right? By Michael C. Munger
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Let me start with two of the most common claims, each quite false: 1. Everything that can be recycled should be recycled. So that should be the goal of regulation: zero waste. 2. If recycling made economic sense, the market system would take care of it. So no regulation is necessary, and in fact state action is harmful.
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Empirically, recycling is almost always substantially more expensive than disposing in the landfill.
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CFR SUI PREZZI
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Since we can’t use the price system, authorities resort to moralistic claims, trying to persuade people that recycling is just something that good citizens do.
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LA MORALITÀ DEI PREZZI
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1. A Visit to Oz
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Recyclists seem to believe that everything should be conserved, except time,
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when you add on the fuel costs and pollution impact of collecting small quantities of the stuff from neighborhoods, actually uses more energy, and wastes more resources, than using virgin materials.
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DI SOLITO RICICLARE NQUINA
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There are exceptions. If disposal costs are high and there is actual demand for the cullet, then green glass is highly recyclable. The best example is northern California, with valuable land, a large population, and lots of manufacturers eager to put new wine in recycled bottles.
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Raleigh, North Carolina)
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Citizens voted to force the city to pick up the glass in those plastic bins, because they don’t like to throw the glass away. The glass is picked up, trucked to the recycling facility, and either bagged or boxed and then shipped, in a different truck, to the landfill. In effect, citizens are paying the city extra to throw away the glass, so that they can pretend it’s being recycled.[
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The main thing is to get people in the habit of recycling, because it’s the right thing to do.”
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QUEL CHE CONTA
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Recycling gives people a chance to express their concern about the environment, and concern about the environment is good.
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2. The economic problem of recycling
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(1) the resource is actually valuable, but markets underprice it; and (2) landfills are scarce, dangerous, or need subsidies to avoid dumping, meaning that throwing resources away is too cheap.[
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I DUE ARGO X IL RICICLAGGIO
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2. A. Underpricing Valuable Resources
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Aluminum cans, some kinds of paper, and corrugated cardboard are all valuable, once they are sorted and packed into high-density containers where the volume is large enough for industrial-scale recycling. You may have seen homeless people picking through garbage for aluminum cans: They can sell
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The fact that people can sell some recycled products means that there is a market,
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2. B. Landfill Cost/ Scarcity
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The argument I made above, which might be summarized, “Let markets do it, and if markets can’t do it shouldn’t be done!”
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Recycling, including the costs of collecting the waste in tiny, mixed amounts, transporting the waste to a handling facility, sorting it, cleaning it, repackaging it, and then transporting it again, often for great distances, to a market that will buy the commodity for some actual use, is almost always more expensive than landfilling that same waste in a local facility.
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COSTOSITÀ DEL RICICLAGGIO
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landfills should be priced at the sum of the opportunity cost of the space used for the landfill and the externalities and costs of managing pollution resulting from landfill disposal.[
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There is a third alternative, or a whole category of alternatives, to landfill disposal or recycling.[ 8] That alternative is illegal dumping, illicit burning, or other extra-legal “free” disposal.
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L ALTERNATIVA DELL ILLEGALITÀ
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covert dumping is easy, and burning in rural areas is very hard to police effectively.
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solution, the one we generally settle on, is subsidizing landfill disposal.
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3. Morals, Not Markets
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If charging the “real” price for landfill causes dumping, why wouldn’t mandatory (and costly) recycling have the same effect? After all, if recycling is expensive (though cheaper than the true cost of landfilling), then charging that cost will induce illegal dumping, right?
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Wouldn’t we have to subsidize recycling, also?
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We have to use another weapon to make mandatory recycling work, and not just be shifted over into illegal dumping. That weapon is moral suasion: you should recycle because good people recycle, and recycling is the right thing to do.
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landfill is no longer expensive; it’s evil.
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3. A. Running Garbage through the Dishwasher
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The duties of good citizens came down to three things: (1) recycle everything; (2) sort it assiduously; and (3) wash it carefully.
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CARTA DEI DOVERI
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In many cities, the resulting separated waste is actually picked up, re-mingled, and landfilled, because it has no economic value whatsoever. But that’s okay, because the important thing is the moral act of recycling, not the saving of resources.
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CARTA DEI FATTI
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I phoned the public relations officers with the recycling departments in several small cities in the Northeast. I asked one extremely cheerful and energetic young woman how her city could justify asking people to put their garbage in the dishwasher. Isn’t that pretty expensive, in terms of human time, and the energy to heat the water, compared to the value of the garbage? Using the same tone of voice one would use to talk to a five year old— she clearly thought I was not the sharpest can lid in the recycle bin— she gave me the most concise explanation I have encountered in the whole genre. She said, “Oh, you have to understand, sir. Recycling is always cheaper, no matter how much it costs!” For her, and for millions of people like her, recycling is not an economic activity at all, but a moral duty,
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ESEMPIO DI CHIARIMENTI
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if recycling is good, more recycling is better.
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3. B. Moral Imperatives Defeated by Incentives at Duke Dining
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The Commons, the faculty dining room, moved with many of the other food service units to use paper plates, plastic utensils, and paper napkins. The nature of these products, made from low-quality fibers and stained with greasy food products, made them poor candidates for recycling, even by the usual friendly standards of universities. At first there were grumbles. Then there were outright protests. Students and faculty complained that “we all know it is wrong” to dispose of waste in the landfill.
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3. C. The Church of Recycling: Holy Communion in Vitacura
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Don’t Cast Recycling as a Moral Issue By Steven E. Landsburg
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When I get a delivery from Amazon, I throw the packaging in the trash. I do that partly because it’s free. My trash collector charges by the month, and I almost never exceed my allotted volume, so disposal costs me nothing at the margin. But landfill space is not free, and if I’m not bearing the cost, someone else is. Arguably this means I throw out too much trash. The most obvious solution is to charge me for landfill space, which might induce me to order fewer packages, or to order packages from sellers who go easier on the styrofoam, or to recycle. Unfortunately, a landfill charge might also induce me to discard my trash on my neighbor’s lawn or (if I burn it) in my neighbor’s lungs. You might think a better solution is to pass a mandatory recycling law. But if I’m already ignoring laws against dumping and burning, I’ll probably ignore that law too. Maybe you’d do better by convincing me that recycling is a moral imperative, so I’ll do it instinctively.
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The thrust of Michael Munger’s essay (as I understand it) is that your mistake all along has been trying to influence my behavior when you should have been trying to influence Amazon’s. If, for example, we place a hefty tax on styrofoam packaging, then Amazon will use less of it, which at least alleviates the problem.
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IO E AMAZON. LA SOLUZIONE AL DUMPING
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When you cast policy issues in moral terms, you degrade the character of public discourse. You lead people to see conflicting priorities as an occasion for battle, rather than an occasion for compromise. You send the message that policy is best decided by appeals to one’s inner conscience (or, more likely, to the polemics of demagogues), rather than by appeals to impersonal cost-benefit analysis.
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CSTI DEL MORALISMO
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Every time a misguided locavore makes the world a poorer place by choosing expensive local food, it’s because she’s absorbed the false lesson that prices are generallya poor measure of social cost - a lesson first absorbed, I suspect, at the feet of the recycling propagandists she first met in elementary school.
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I’m on board, for example, with making people feel guilty about committing murder for hire. I might be on board with making people feel guilty about working as OSHA inspectors, or accepting jobs that wouldn’t exist without tariff protection, or installing solar panels solely because they’re subsidized.
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A VOLTE IL MORALISMO SERVE
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When an airline can fly me to California for $ 200, and I’m willing to pay $ 300, but (because of monopoly power) the price is $ 1,000, I choose not to fly. That’s socially inefficient in exactly the same way that my failure to recycle is inefficient—I elevate my own selfish interests over a clear opportunity to create value for others (in this case the stockholders of the airline company) and to enrich the world as a whole.
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First, I’d like to encourage respect for price signals even when price signals get things wrong, because price signals so often get things right.
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