Boston Globe: Jeff Jacoby Disses Recycling

When I was forwarded a link to the Boston Globe's skeptical and sarcastic piece by columnist Jeff Jacoby about recycling, I was expecting something worse.   Jacoby admits that industrial and commercial recycling are good for the environment and economical.   And I smiled with him at the exaggerated enthusiasm of some recycling fliers, which seem to want everybody to be as thrilled as I am about making recycling commonplace.

Towards the end of the article, however, Jacoby makes a couple of mistakes which do need correction, regarding curbside residential recycling.  The economics he uses were considered decades ago and put to rest.   To fairly consider municipal recycling economics, you need to weigh three important facts:
  1. Virgin materials are subsidized.  The General Mining Act of 1872 set the cost of mining and forestry on federal lands at $5 per acre.  That was considered a development incentive / subsidy 138 years ago.  Today it's a ridiculous subsidy of virgin extraction in Western states.  Massachusetts paper mills turned to using recycled paper almost a century ago.  Recycling is good for Massachusetts.  It is the subsidies of virgin material in Western states that hurts our recycling industry's competitiveness.
  2. As recycling increases, dumping cost go down.    The red line of the MBTA runs for awhile right along the expressway.  At certain times of day, the expressway is moving faster than the T.  But if you close the T, and everyone on it now gets on the expressway, the traffic changes.  In the same way, solid waste landfill and disposal costs were increasing dramatically before municipal recycling started.  Recycling blunted the cost of solid waste, and the state no longer issues the multi-million dollar bonds to support incinerators.
  3. Recycling creates jobs.  My company employs 20 people, salvaging and recycling 6 million pounds of stuff diverted from the dump - per YEAR.   That same 6 million pounds would employ our guys at the landfill for one eight-hour day.   The jobs are NOT created by the recycling bills, they are created by the added value of the materials we are recycling.  

Shutting down the recycling economy might benefit the state for about a week.  Then the Massachusetts mills would close, the mining from federal lands would increase, the cost of dumping would go back to where it was in the 1980s, and we'd lay off thousands of people employed by the recycling industry.

Whenever someone has the bright idea that eliminating the recycling trucks is good for the environment, we have to remind them of the logging truck (to go cut down trees to make paper) and the additional trip to the landfill.

The worst of all economies is to run a recycling program which people don't participate in.  When the recycling truck drives by Mr. Jacoby's house, I hope his bin will be out.  Running two trucks to pick up recyclables separated from trash only works when people participate.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Sock it to 'em, Robin. Keep up the good work.