"New Ideas" .... sigh for recycling

Twice in the past 2 weeks I've heard really nice people in grad school propose "solutions" to recycling transport costs which involve consolidating all the loads for one bidder, either shipping or processing, to "scale" the collection costs.

This is unfortunately a really stupid "command and control" idea, because monopolization always fails. If the idea comes from the trucking company or monopolist, it can work fine because they cannot mandate it. But when it comes from government planners or "think tanks", they almost always fail vs. the free market.

The best test is to look at existing, successful bulky waste collection programs - auto batteries, air conditioners, tires, and other white goods are recycled at 85% nationwide. They are based on waste bans in RCRA. They are banned from disposal, and left to the free market.

The outcome is sometimes accumulations at disposal sites, sometimes curbside bulky collections, sometimes retailer takebacks. What did NOT happen is someone planning to direct all the material by command and control or central planning.

It has been a mistake to monopolize e-waste programs by assigning marketing to distributors like Dell and HP and Sony. To different degrees, they dislike being put into the position of recycler, but once put there, they will have interests which environmentalists will not have planned on. Like the refurbishment of ink cartridges may disqualify a recycler from consideration as a processor for a company that manufactures ink cartridges. Or forcing it through retail ignores costs which retailers know from warrantee returns (if you have more than 5 people waiting in line at the retailer, you lose X% of sales, and they factor in warrantee returns as a cost far beyond the transport). Retail space is also practically the most expensive space you can use for consolidation and inventory.

Waste ban CRTs. Stand back. Watch the market. Then study what happened and improve on it. Is it any surprise that the biggest recycling companies in e-waste happen to be in CA and New England, where the first CRT waste bans occured?

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