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A neat insight from Don Boudreaux

From Cafe Hayek comes this:

When materials are worth
recycling, markets for their reuse naturally arise.  For
materials with no natural markets for their reuse, the benefits of
recycling are less than its costs – and, therefore, government
efforts to promote such recycling waste

Everyday experience should teach
us this fact.  The benefits of recycling clothing, for
example, are large enough to prompt us to buy costly
clothes-recycling machines that we routinely use to recycle for
tomorrow the clothes we wear today.  We call these machines
“washers and dryers.”  And when American families no longer
want their clothing, organizations such as Goodwill come by to
gather the discarded garments to recycle them for use by poor

People also recycle their
homes.  The one I own and live in was previously owned by a
family who recycled it – which included refurbishing it – rather
than simply discarded it when they moved to another town. 
Many people also drive recycled (“used”) cars, stock their homes
with recycled (“antique”) furniture, listen to recycled (“used”)
CDs, and read recycled (“used”) books.

Markets promote conservation when
it’s worthwhile; government promotes it when it’s

I’d never really thought about recycling in that way.

There is, of course, another reason to recycle even if it is
costly and wasteful — to prevent litter. But I have a feeling it
achieves this rather poorly. Indeed, when it is costly or
inconvenient and disposal is not made available as an option,
people just break the rules and dump litter instead, so recycling
can make litter worse.



By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  Uncategorized