Sunday, August 12, 2007

Recycling "Myths" Refuted

As I have noted, one way to get my attention is to post something inane about a subject that requires some modest measure of critical thought, which is just what Paul Smith, Jr. did with this post on recycling myths. It turns out that Paul's post simply repeated, without comment, something he read at Instapundit, which was picked up from an organization called the Property and Environment Research Center, or PERC, located in Bozeman, Montana.
PERC seems to be dedicated to property rights and opposed to government intervention in environmental matters. In doing so, PERC had Daniel K. Benjamin, an economics professor and senior associate, compile this list of pernicious myths supposedly brought to us by the muddled minds of dangerously soft-headed environmentalists:
MYTH 1: OUR GARBAGE WILL BURY US
MYTH 2: OUR GARBAGE WILL POISON US
MYTH 3: PACKAGING IS OUR PROBLEM
MYTH 4: WE MUST ACHIEVE TRASH INDEPENDENCE
MYTH 5: WE SQUANDER IRREPLACEABLE RESOURCES WHEN WE DON'T RECYCLE
MYTH 7: RECYCLING SAVES RESOURCES
MYTH 8: WITHOUT FORCED RECYCLING MANDATES, THERE WOULDN'T BE RECYCLING
Starting with the first one, Professor Benjamin and the good people of PERC seem to think that we need to be protected from the environmentalists' dire warnings that "our garbage will bury us," as though recycling advocates are telling people that the Cherry Island landfill, for instance, is about to burst its boundaries and rise to cover Wilmington in trash.
Presumably the wide open spaces of Montana are safer from the scourge of trash accumulation, and we needn't worry about Glacier National Park being buried anytime soon. It's a time honored and transparent tactic; make your opponents' argument sound as ridiculous as possible so that you can come across as reasonable and rational.
Of course the trash from Cherry Island is not about to well up and bury the streets of Wilmington.
But that doesn't mean that we don't have a landfill capacity problem; we do, and it's an expensive one. The Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) is spending $86 million on improvements to raise the maximum level of Cherry Island landfill by all of 23 feet, a cost that makes the DSWA's estimated cost of a new landfill, $106 million, look rather low.
At the heart of PERC's pronouncements on these so-called recycling myths is the belief that markets capture all relevant costs and can solve all our environmental problems. According to PERC, if recycling made sense, it would already be economically advantageous. The problem with this argument is that the economics of landfilling reflect current costs, not future costs.
It may be that the land for a new landfill will be more easily bought in Montana than in Delaware. Even so, analysis I published last year demonstrated that a modest investment in a single stream recycling facility would more than pay for itself by postponing the large cost of siting and building a new landfill to serve New Castle County.
Some of Professor Benjamin's misconceptions are simply misinformed or based on outdated understanding of how efficient recycling works:
Curbside recycling, for example, requires that more trucks be used to collect the same amount of waste materials.
Not so. In Wilmington, curbside recycling is working because the city is using the same trucks to picked up recyclables that it uses to collect trash bound for the landfill. Two days before Paul ran his post on recycling myths, the News Journal reported that Kent County is following suit:
Kent County will scrap one of its weekly trash pickups but offer every-other-week curbside recycling across its 117 refuse collection districts in January, according to the county and the Delaware Solid Waste Authority.
Perhaps we should allow Professor Benjamin the benefit of the doubt on this score. Of the eight sources listed, seven are more than ten years old. In the 1990s, the debate on the efficiency of recycling revolved around commodity prices, not on the methods used to collect and process materials, which have advanced since then.
Mark Twain famously said that "A lie can travel around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." We see how this list of recycling "myths" travelled from Montana to Delaware and who knows where else via a conservative blogger. It may have taken me a couple of weeks to put on my shoes, but I could not let this collection of outdated nonsense go unchallenged.

5 Comments:

Anonymous jason330 said...

Tom,

Thanks for taking down that BS. The cut and paste artists on the other side work so quickly that it is hard to keep up.

10:12 PM, August 12, 2007  
Blogger TommyWonk said...

Thanks Jason.

Paul emailed me directly on this post. (I should point out that I don't consider private emails as fodder for public posts or comments without the permission of the sender.)

I will say that Paul noted the politicized nature of the topic and said that recycling is "a subject that bears further scrutiny." Well if scrutiny is what he was seeking, he got it.

11:23 PM, August 12, 2007  
Anonymous Tyler Nixon said...

Well, now we know Paul Smith is willing to recycle at least some types of garbage.

This kind of empty regurgitation of right-wing nonsense is the type of thing where my hackles rise with these pseudo-conservatives.

Forget about the BS "myths" being re-stated here. What the hell is the logical or even defensible argument against recycling (besides cheapness, greed, and indifference to smart sustainable waste management)?

Recycling just makes sense in so many ways and is just simply a superior way to deal with solid waste.

I will never ever understand why people like Paul Smith feel they need to be anti-conservationists and status quo defenders of sprawling, bulging garbage dumps brimming with non-biodegradeable waste.

This is not about politics or left/right. It is about common sense. For as many issues as I have with the government of Wilmington I have only praise for the action it has taken to bring us citywide recycling. (Not to mention how happy I am not to have to load my car to the gills to head to the old recycling "igloos".)

Those who feel they need to oppose even common sense action like recycling simply to maintain some shallow, doctrinaire political position are not even worthy of credit by mere repetition and refutation.

Nonetheless, thanks for doing so, Tom.

8:41 AM, August 13, 2007  
Blogger TommyWonk said...

Thanks Tyler.

I didn't set out to trash Paul, but to point out that sometimes the conventional wisdom can be flat-out wrong.

I don't try to offer an opinion on every issue under the sun, which allows me the luxury of sticking to issues I have thought about in some small way.

4:12 PM, August 13, 2007  
Anonymous Tyler Nixon said...

I certainly didn't think you intended to trash Paul. I think Paul means well and I didn't intend to trash him either. But since we inhabit the same political party and claim the same philosophical mantle (conservatism) I felt the need to rebut the knee-jerk, reactive nature of posting such drivel as that laundry list.

I have about had it with people who claim to be Republicans and conservatives taking third-hand nonsense like that and reflexively repeating it simply because they perceive as being contrary to "environmentalist liberals" (or pick any group on any issue that is the hated opposition, no matter the substance or logic surrounding the issue).

Energy, environment, and waste management are areas in which I feel compelled to speak out, especially against those who would muddy the waters of progress and public education with purely partisan or ideological dogma. I do so because, particularly with energy, I have studied it for years and have realized that it is far too critical to be turned into a shallow left-right/R-D debating point. Ditto recycling.

7:20 PM, August 13, 2007  

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