As I brought in my recycling bin today I thought “well, curbside recycling sure seems like a great innovative idea, a well run program and a clear example of where major change made a positive difference”. Then I realized that I was making the same mistake advocates always make with respect to this type of thing – I was only looking at the benefits and not the costs.
Naturally the internet came to the rescue of my ignorance, though I don’t have time to find the real answers.
This article was a good start at some of the challenges of even making a determination: http://environment.about.com/od/recycling/a/benefit_vs_cost.htm
I have NOT changed my mind but I have realized how ignorant I am about the costs involved in these programs. Based on the article and the fact that we tend to exaggerate the tiny spaces we need here in USA to landfill huge amounts of garbage, I’m now thinking that recycling probably is *very expensive* and may not be a good use of economic resources when landfill space is cheap and abundant.
This is a great research project for later when I have more time to kill, but some factors that don’t appear enough in analyses of these things are:
1. Value of the time spend by individuals to participate.
2. Energy resources used to recycle things. On a small scale some “obsessive” types of folks make a lot of separate “recycling” trips. I’d like to know at what point the energy costs of a separate recycling trip outweigh the energy savings of the recycling. My guess is that driving more than a mile with a bag of cans is … very environmentally unsound. Of course most will combine this trip so it’s not separate, but all behaviors should be considered.
On a larger scale there are HUGE costs to set up these programs. Separate trucks, runs, gas, etc. The inefficiency of having TWO runs vs ONE run is a very large issue, and I’m anxious to see if recycling advocates do a good job of looking at the energy costs in this equation. Historically energy analyses border on the insanely incompetent, failing to take into account things like “present value” when showing that it’s *economically* a good idea to put in energy efficient windows when in fact this cost is usually enormous compared to the modest annual savings. There are energy benefits that are NOT economic, but those need to be expressed in some way other than pretending there is money saved.
(Quick example. Let’s say you replace 20 old windows at $400 each with high quality insulated double panes. That is $8000 spent *today*. The energy savings from this, unless you live in Alaska and probably not even then, will need to be on the order of $400 per year just to give you a yield on that investment of 5%. My total heating bill for the year is under $1000 here in Oregon and clearly new windows won’t knock that back 40%, so….