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Why I throw out recycling and recycle the trash.

September 18, 2009

What is a Beanie Baby made of? There’s cloth and beans, of course, but there’s more. Without labor, machinery and (especially) energy, no Beanie Baby would ever get made. When you buy a Beanie Baby, you aren’t just paying for the cloth and beans, you’re paying for all of these things. You are paying to draw resources away from alternative uses to instead be used making you a cuddly buddy.

The Beanie Baby factory may have other costs too, such as pollution, that aren’t part of the purchase price of your Beanie Baby, but let’s put that point aside for now.

So, the cost of a Beanie Baby includes the cost of the resources that are necessary to make this toy. We can understand these costs as the environmental impact of a good, assuming the factory is taking into consideration the cost of pollution. Obviously the cost is positive, because the impact on the environment is positive.

Now, I consider myself to be an environmentalist, but not an environazi. I care about the environment for more than just my own gain from it (I have an altruistic appreciation of the “natural world”). I also care about humanity, so I have to balance these concerns at the margin against the many other things I care about.

With recycling there are costs, such as having a truck drive around early in the morning once a week, waking me up and pumping emissions into the air. There is also a lot of energy used at the recycling plant. There are also a lot of people working to recycle, all of whom could be doing something else (e.g. feeding the poor, taking care of the sick, making Beanie Babies, etc.).

If a business venture is profitable, nobody needs to tell someone to start that business. If the output (e.g. recycled tin cans) of a business is more valuable then the input (e.g. old tin cans, energy, equipment, time) then somebody will be willing to make that money!

That is why I’m suspicious of recycling. In Dallas, Texas (when I lived there) they didn’t have recycling. In California (where I am now), they do. Resources cost less in Dallas (fuel, land and labor are all cheaper), so recycling should be more profitable. This leads me to believe that recycling isn’t profitable, and is therefore using more resources than it returns. So I don’t recycle.

But I take it a step further, I get Pigouvian on my recycling (which is really garbage, after all)! I don’t just throw out my recycling, but I recycle my trash! Actually, even though it imposes a cost on the recycling company, they’re just passing the bill on to myself and other residents of San Jose. Okay, I’ll stop recycling garbage.

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