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Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I once read a Reason magazine article in the early '90s which said that environmentalism is something only rich countries can afford to indulge. When your entire life and salary are focused on getting by, it's not a very big priority in your life.

And of course, one of the reasons that the rich countries can indulge themselves is a market forms which trades on their concerns to make money. The reason it works is a) they can afford it and are willing to spend to achieve what they want and b) someone else is willing to provide the products or services they are willing to spend their money on. Everyone ends up happy.

[As an aside: This isn't to claim that environmentalism is wrong or that being a good environmental steward isn't important, it's just to say in the hierarchy of things, it normally doesn't become a priority until other more pressing and necessary needs are fulfilled.]

Now, we all know we have a trash problem and richer countries have a more acute problem than do poorer countries.

One of the things which happens when a country becomes rich enough to indulge environmentalism is something as basic as a recycling program is started. There are multiple reasons it starts. One is it makes environmentalists (and people in general) feel good. Two,it eliminates a lot of solid waste. But most importantly, it makes other people money. Thus a market forms and functions which fulfills environmental goal. Neat huh?

But what happens when that market suddenly falls apart?

Yes friends, "trash has crashed":
The economic downturn has decimated the market for recycled materials like cardboard, plastic, newspaper and metals. Across the country, this junk is accumulating by the ton in the yards and warehouses of recycling contractors, which are unable to find buyers or are unwilling to sell at rock-bottom prices.

Ordinarily the material would be turned into products like car parts, book covers and boxes for electronics. But with the slump in the scrap market, a trickle is starting to head for landfills instead of a second life.

“It’s awful,” said Briana Sternberg, education and outreach coordinator for Sedona Recycles, a nonprofit group in Arizona that recently stopped taking certain types of cardboard, like old cereal, rice and pasta boxes. There is no market for these, and the organization’s quarter-acre yard is already packed fence to fence.

“Either it goes to landfill or it begins to cost us money,” Ms. Sternberg said.
Uh, oh - magic words there - it's "costing us money". And since this will obviously be blamed on a "market failure" and because it is a favored industry of the left, what can we all expect?

Wait for it ...


The collapse of the market is slowing the momentum of recycling overall, said Mark Arzoumanian, editor in chief of Official Board Markets. He said the problem would hurt individual recycling businesses, but also major retailers, like Wal-Mart Stores, that profit by selling refuse.
Yup - to big to fail, I'm tellin' you. We need to be lobbying Congress to artificially pump up those refuse prices - maybe we could appoint a trash czar?!

I recommend Chuck Schumer. I mean when it comes to talkin' trash, Chuckie's your man.

As for those greedy recyclers? Off with their heads - no bonuses for them this year. No more resort meetings in the City of Industry for that bunch. And if we do this right, we can probably create any number of 'green' jobs for 'recycling engineers' charged with pulling good stuff out of, well, yuckie stuff.

Yeah, I know, you thought this was going to be a serious post - look, I've had two shots of cough syrup and not much sleep - deal with it.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

"I’ve had two shots of cough syrup and not much sleep..."

Try some Talisker. Works much better than Robitussin.
Written By: CR
URL: http://
One of the characters in Dead Souls is paranoid that other landowners are going to get more money for their dead peasants than she is ...

I didn’t know the book was actually non-fiction.
Written By: Adriane
URL: http://
Joke or not, I wonder if they’re going to run the table now.
Written By: Luke
URL: http://
Actually, recycling programs were not created by rich countries due to market demand. They were created by government programs from popular support. There have been many instances of recycling plants not having enough trash to turn a profit before. This is just one more instance of trying to create demand for a good (recycling) without enough supply (trash). It’s why all demand side (instead of supply side) economic measures ultimately fail.

In other words, the idea that there is too much trash in this country is directly contradicted by the market facts - there is a shortage of trash in comparison to the demand for trash management.
Written By: Samra
URL: http://
No Rangel should be the Trash Czar, and Barney Frank, with his personal experience, can head the solid waste subcommittee. He can be the Prince of Poo.
Written By: kyleN
It is becoming ever more clear to me that if I ever serve in congress, it will be for less than 30 minutes, and will consist entirely of me swearing.
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
On topic, but not exactly in the spirit of the article:
Written By: suek
URL: http://
Awesome post ! We must be careful of what we ask for.

Scott Jacobs says: It is becoming ever more clear to me that if I ever serve in congress, it will be for less than 30 minutes, and will consist entirely of me swearing.

Heh. I was thinking the same thing, but then again I could never make it past the vetting process. No way somebody is turning me into Josephine the Plumber !
Written By: Shirley
Samra is fairly close to the mark. I worked for a recycler in the 70s. It didn’t make any money and was funded by large businesses that feared the bad publicity of not contributing. I also marveled at the stupidity of people that would burn $1 worth of gas to bring in 10 cents of recyclables (there were lots of people like that). But they felt good about it and doing their part to save the planet.
Written By: feeblemind
URL: http://
When I lived in New Hampshire we had a problem with people stealing recyclables. On trash day we put our recyclables by the curb, all neatly packaged as directed, to be picked up and some enterprising soul would come by before the sanitation truck and take the recyclables and sell them to the recycler. The town was very upset at this loss of revenue and attempted to apprehend the thief, even staking out likely houses before dawn.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
I do real recycling. I’ve recycled over 10 tons of steel, for market value. Since metal prices have dropped (or so I’ve heard), I’ll probably hold onto what I have until the price rises (although the drop in gas prices is an offset).
Written By: Don
URL: http://
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