Why bother to recycle if recycling gets more expensive?

Those with a modicum of economic training will be hard put to understand this story out of Australia. Recycling plastics has just got more expensive. So, therefore, the Federal environment minister, Josh Frydenburg, is insisting that everyone must recycle plastics more.

What? Even, whut?

No, no, demand curves slope downwards, when things become more expensive we do less of them, not more. It’s only in religion that we are urged to do even more of the more difficult things. Maybe that is it, we waste more money on plastics therefore we’re worshipping Gaia harder or something. Otherwise this is simply mad:

Plastic packaging on fresh food, groceries and a range of other items will be banned within seven years to cope with Chinese restrictions on Australian recyclables.

State and federal environment ministers held crisis talks in Melbourne yesterday and agreed to prioritise the development of a larger domestic recycling market, with Queensland councils alone expected to face a combined bill of more than $50 million in the face of the new Chinese restrictions.

China has decided, rightly or wrongly – I think wrongly but there it is – that they’ll not take plastic waste from outside the country. That means that everywhere else needs to work out what to do with the stuff they collected and used to send to China. OK, obviously, some sort of response is necessary. But more recycling isn’t it:

We need a national accounting system in which the cradle to the grave costs of waste are borne by the generators of it. We would do well to emulate Germany’s system. Producers and distributors are obliged to take back used packaging. This has resulted in a large reduction of packaging, and the development of a waste management industry which employs about 200,000 people. Municipal solid waste landfill has been reduced to virtually zero.

There’s the make work fallacy at play. Having 200,000 people handling waste is a cost, not a benefit, for that’s the labour of 199,997 more people being used than simply tipping it all into a furnace or a hole in the ground would require. And therefore we’re poorer by the loss of what those 199,997 people would produce if it weren’t for their worshipping Gaia for us.

Australian businesses will be forced to innovate the nation’s way out of a ‘recycling crisis’ with a decision to require all packaging in Australia to be recyclable or reusable by 2025.

No, really, why? That we want to deal with waste is obvious. But how we deal with waste is important and recycling isn’t the only way. We can have holes in the ground we tip it into, we can feed it into a furnace and gain some energy thereby, insisting that it must be recycled is an insistence, not the only possible solution.

Australia’s environment ministers have backed a plan for all packaging to be “recyclable, compostable or reusable” within eight years as part of an effort to fix the nation’s waste crisis.

What damn crisis? The nation with the world’s largest mining industry is short of holes in the ground?

What’s happening here is that the obviously true statement that we need to deal with waste has been captured by those insistent that recycling is the only way to deal with waste. Which it isn’t. We have three other options. One of which is not dealing with it and allowing it all to blow in the wind.

OK, so, we don’t want to do that. But we’ve still two more. One is incineration, the other is landfill. Any of the three – to add recycling – deal with the problem. And the truth of the matter is that some recycling makes a profit. Even, some of it which doesn’t make a direct profit is still worth doing for other reasons. Great. But if the costs of recycling have just gone up the sensible response isn’t to insist upon more of it. Far from it, it’s to do more of the other two, and cheaper, options.

As above the only reason I can think of to increase recycling as the costs of it also increase is because people are in the grip of a religious mania. Which isn’t, as much of history shows us, a great way to run a country really, religious mania.

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  1. I did hear, but didn’t get the details, that the Japanese have recently devised a portable machine that converts plastic into oil. Doubtless some excuse will be found to ban it (assuming the info is correct) as it solves a problem that many want to worry about.

  2. I recycle on the molecular level. Kill everything and let God sort it out. Incineration, by the way, neatly sidesteps a concern in a previous article of Tim’s, that we must redesign all our single-stream recycling schemes because polyethylene and polypropylene must not be intermingled during disposal.

  3. Make manufacturers bear the cost of plastic waste? Why not the consumers? They’re the ones generating the consumption of the stuff through their actions of consuming it. If consumers are protected from the negative impacts of their actions how will they notice the negative impact of their actions?

    • Manufacturers who are also corporations cannot vote. They do pay taxes of course but not for them such principles as no tax without representation. Consumers, mostly us humans of course, do get to vote. And then there is the ‘issue’ that raising the costs on the poor is ‘unfair’. Whereas, getting the manufacturers to pay and who then recover their costs through price increases is just another way of the politicians getting somebody else to do their work. Don’t know what it is like where you live but you get a good sense of what it is like here in the wonderful world of Oz. And Joshie can be quite reasoned at times – wait until we have the current idiots from Labor in power.

    • Dear jgh, there is no way to “make manufacturers bear the cost” of anything. Any new work that government foists on them will result in higher prices to the consumer, who is, after all, where all the revenue comes from, with which to pay for all that new make-work.