Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Recycling and why it sucks.

Every once in a while an article comes by that just perfectly encapsulates my thinking on a subject.  Here we have one of those perfect articles.

For a long time now I've quietly resisted recycling.  It seems to me that if I'm paying for garbage collection, then I should get garbage collection.  You know, where they come and take the garbage away.  Should anyone wish to sort through what I have paid hard money to have hauled off in the hopes of making a buck on it, they have my blessing.  But if I am going to be required to use my time and energy to pre-sort so that somebody else's job is easier, I expect to get paid for it.  Like, apply the profit from the sale of recyclable material to lower my garbage collection bill.  More fool am I!  They increase my taxes and reduce the service instead, Hamilton is going to go to one-bag-per-week collection rules.

Strangely, I find this irritating.

When I complain about the foul nature of government mandated recycling, people always tell me about Sweden.  Northern eco-paradise where everyone recycles and all is bliss and love.  Or not.

The way it has been presented to me, Sweden has succeeded with what most other governments at best dream about: creating an efficient and profitable national system for saving the environment through large-scale recycling. And the people are all in on it! Everybody's recycling.

The latter is actually true: everybody is recycling. But that is the result of government force, not a voluntary choice.
So, how's that working out for them?

Economically, Swedish recycling is a disaster. Imagine a whole population spending time and money cleaning their garbage and driving it around the neighborhood rather than working or investing in a productive market! According to the government's books, more money flows in than flows out; therefore recycling is profitable. But this ignores the costs of coercion.

The government bookkeepers also take advantage of the cost cuts they have been able to realize through centralizing the garbage collection system. These "cuts," however, are mostly cuts in service, whereas rates for consumers have been increased. A recent problem with the garbage-collection centers is that the containers aren't emptied very often (a typical example of government "savings") and thus remain full, which means that people's garbage piles up next to the overflowing containers while the government contractors sit idle: they are only paid to empty the containers on schedule, not to pick up the trash sitting next to these containers. The result? Disease and rats. Newspapers have been reporting on a "rat invasion" in Stockholm and in other Swedish cities in recent years.

If we consider the costs in monetary terms, in terms of wasted time, and in terms of increased emissions from automobiles, this is hardly environmentally friendly. Adding the annoyance and the increased risk for disease, Swedish recycling is at least as disastrous as any other government scheme.

Just about as expected, then.

So the next time some good hearted soul chides you about not sorting your glass from your plastics, tell them about the Great Swedish Rat Invasion.

The Phantom Recycling Denier.


Anonymous said...

I read an article 7 or 8 years back in Reader's Digest that expressed your sentiment. Recycling uses more energy than not. I don't know if I'm just enabling the greenies, but I choose to go ahead and recycle anyhow since they're already driving by with the truck.

The Phantom said...

We've had recycling in Ontario forever at the beer store. We used to get beer in "stubbies", 1/2 pint brown glass bottles. Strong, easy to make, easy to stack, easy to CLEAN, withstood multiple uses.

The breweries used to get them from the beer store, wash them out and send them back out full of nice shiny new beer. THAT is recycling.

They stopped doing it because the breweries wanted to use different shaped bottles with twist-off caps. A threaded bottle neck won't survive more than one use. They probably weren't saving much money either, if any once you consider the shipping and handling for the empties. Marketing trumps thrift.

These days most of the "recycled" glass we carefully sort by type and colour goes straight to the land fill, because it isn't sorted -enough-. The price of mixed colour glass is so low it isn't worth the gas to haul it away, so they dump it.

Hence my objection. Its a political scam, not a single true thing about it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I used to live in Kemptville where I had to buy bag tags in order to put out garbage, plus sort recycling. I really objected to the idea that not only did we pay municipal tax for garbage, but then we had to pay use tax on top of it. Ontario definitely sucks politically, and that would be one reason I moved to Michigan.

Saskboy said...

Recycling glass *may* be an exception to the rule, but recycling always saves more energy than digging out new material costs.

If people are going to take Reader's Digest and people like Margaret Wente as experts on recycling, over reason and the word of experts, then we really are doomed to live under a pile of trash.

The Phantom said...

Saskboy, did you even read the source article? Recycling as formulated in Sweden (and Ontario!) is much more expensive than new material... IF you include the labor and transport cost born by the public.

The only recycling I'm aware of that actually pays for itself is the scrap metal trade, and they don't do municipal garbage.