Posted On: Tuesday - October 6th 2020 4:44PM MST
In Topics:   China  Economics  Environmental Stupidity
2 3/4 years back, Peak Stupidity came up with our favorite title so far, for the post Toward Sustainable Stupidity. A more accurate title would have been "Stupid Sustainability" or something like that, but we couldn't help it. This post is sort of a vindication of what the point of that old post was - why do recycling when it doesn't pay off.
See, the free market will do a helluva job in allocating where the trash goes, based on a lot of factors, all then can be quantified in terms of money. I'm gonna excerpt about 1/3 of that post to explain:
Are we going to run quickly out of areas to bury our stuff? No, take a look at google earth aerial pics sometimes and I doubt you'll find one landfill without making an effort. The cntrl-left enviros really don't care about that part, as most of them just want to feel good about themselves and know they are a BETTER PERSON than you are. Were they to go talk to the city managers who probably know the real problem, they'd know that it's hard to build a smelly landfill close in to the city. You can build them farther out, but that requires more money to continuously truck the trash much further. Is that sustainable? That depends on how much wasteful crap the city does with the rest of the budget, but I would not have any problem with any of the treehuggers who are in favor of charging for trash based on weight (Oh, no! Free markets! Ewwwww!). Sure, though, let's recycle what PAYS to recycle, as in stuff that the city can get enough money back for to cover what it would have cost to truck it to a far-out landfill (Landfills. FAR OUT, MAN!) That's what I call sustainable.In the on-line magazine Quillette, about which I don't know too much otherwise, one Mr. Howard Husock, of the Manhattan Institute says As City Budgets Shrink, It’s Time to Rethink Recycling Programs. Well, obviously if a recycling program paid off or broke even, there wouldn't have to be cuts along with the associated city budget. (You may even want to expand it.) These Quillette people are right on my wavelength, it seems (might be worth reading in general):
Instead of letting a free market take care of decisions about what to do with our trash, based on a concept called "pricing", we have these treehuggers pushing for decisions based on their emotions. They feel very good seeing these big cans filled with supposed "recyclables" in some citiies, when lots of it gets sent right to the landfill from the transfer station. See, not many treehuggers work at the transfer station to see this, just regular working people work there. Some of the process doesn't pay off at all, as in, it would still be cheaper to gather up the unsuitable-for-reuse trash normally and bring it straight way out of town to a landfill. That means that the taxpayers are on the hook, of course. Is that sustainable? At some point we're gonna' run out of taxpayers. Yeah, there are indeed bigger boondoggles than the recycling process in some progressive cities, and yes, you need to know how to pick your battles. The point here is to debunk this whole meme of "sustainability, sustainability".
The COVID recession has caused tax revenues to plummet, forcing cities and states to make painful budget cuts. But as they struggle to fund schools, parks, public safety, and other essential services, there’s one simple and painless way for governments to save money: Rethink recycling. The goal should be to transform the practice from a virtuous-seeming exercise that drains funds from core public services, to one by which price signals assure taxpayers that diverted materials are actually recycled.We are not running out of room for landfills. That's a key point that Mr. Husock doesn't quite get to. However, he discussed the significant cost differences, depending very much on the materials, and the current market for different materials, that favor dumping them vs. recycling in the current climate.
When recycling programs became common three decades ago, they were sold to taxpayers as a win-win, financially and environmentally: Cities expected to reap budget savings through the sale of recyclable materials, and conscientious taxpayers expected to reduce ecological destruction. Instead, the painful reality for enthusiastic, dutiful recyclers is that most recycling programs don’t make much environmental sense. Often, they don’t make economic sense, either.
Speaking of climate, Mr Husock had to bring up the carbon emission crap that I don't want to get into in this post (see Global Climate Stupidity for plenty of that) as a factor in decisions to recycle based on environmental reasons alone. Even with that bogus climate-change reasoning, his Manhattan Institute calculates that nothing but metal, cardboad, and some paper is not worth recycling for "the climate's sake" either. Of course, that can change with demand and also is based on location, since there are certain locations where the landfills must be far out enough to make other options more competitive.
Here's what has really changed in the last few years, beside, the COVID recession, as the man calls it: China won't take our crap anymore. That's really not fair, man, as we pay money for plenty of their crap.
The chief buyers of American recyclable materials used to be Asian countries, chiefly China, where wages were low enough to justify labor-intensive recycling operations. But as part of Beijing’s “National Sword” policy, China began banning imports of “foreign trash” in 2017. Other Asian countries also began imposing their own restrictions. Meanwhile, reduced demand sent prices tumbling. The market price for mixed paper, for example, dropped from $160 to $3 per ton from March 2017 to March 2018.China used to REALLY be short on paper*. Yeah, you overpopulate your land for hundreds of years, ant that kind of stuff is gonna happen. (Shouldn't that be a lesson for (us) treehuggers here?) There weren't so many real forests left, though the Chinese are getting on a real environmental kick now. They need it.
Look, readers, I'm as much of a treehugger as the next guy (though there's never been any penetration). However, the virtual signalling going on with those big trash cans being the recycling while the little ones are for trash is just that, a show of virtue. Lots of that stuff in the big can may go to the landfill too, but just a longer and more expensive way.
As a result, cities that once collected some revenue for bales of recyclables (though typically not enough to cover the extra costs that recycling introduces into a municipal budget) must now pay to get rid of them. In many cases, they simply send them to landfills.Ahaaa! See? What is done with your trash should depend on economics and the current market, not "makes us feel good". If that money wasted doesn't go to a more primary function of city government, it won't feel that good when your Volvo gets its front end bent up from that big-ass pot hole they didn't have money to fix.
I don't think I really need a guy from the Manhattan Institute to vindicate a Peak Stupidity post, but it feels kind good that someone else is getting around to it.
* At the restaurant, they would make you pay a small fee for another small pack of napkins if the few they gave you didn't suffice.