The Senior Economics Writer for the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Moore, writes about the authoritarian climate surrounding recycling in his op-ed “Gang Green” (a very appropriate title on several levels).

Excerpt from the article:

Do-gooders also once wanted to “celebrate diversity,” but total conformity seems to be the aim of those in Seattle these days, where the city has started putting green tags on garbage cans of homeowners who don’t recycle. Enthusiasts boast that there is a very positive “Scarlet Letter” effect to subjecting non-compliers to public scorn. So you can almost hear the kitchen conversations: “Jimmy, I don’t want you playing with the Williams boys anymore; their family doesn’t recycle.”

Many studies have shown that the environmental benefits from household recycling are minimal or at least highly exaggerated (because it uses a lot of energy and those recycling trucks emit a lot of greenhouse gases). America is not in danger of ever running out of landfill to store our garbage. For example, a study by Daniel Benjamin, an economist at Clemson, finds that we could store all of America’s garbage for the next century within the property of Ted Turner’s ranch in Montana, with 50,000 acres undisturbed for the horse and bison.

In reality, household recycling is mostly about absolving the guilt of Lexus liberals who just hate themselves for enjoying an affluent 21st-century lifestyle. The aim seems to be less saving nature than building self-esteem.

And it has worked. Too well. I can barely tolerate the proud recyclers, hybrid-car owners and “save the polar bear” button-wearers who smother us with their self-righteousness. A few weeks ago I was at the house of some friends, and I accidentally tossed a plastic Gatorade bottle into the glass recycling bin. You would have thought that I had made a pass at their daughter.

Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute notes with rich irony that “we now live in a society where Sunday church attendance is down, but people wouldn’t dream of missing their weekly trek to the altar of the recycling center.” These facilities, by the way, are increasingly called “redemption centers.” Which is fine except that now the greens want to make redemption mandatory. Oh, for a return to the days when someone stood up for the separation of church and state.

I recently became a Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP). A key tenet of systems engineering is that the system must be optimized, not just one or two parts. Has anybody ever done a pollution, energy and economics life cycle study of curb side recycling? Or do we think just feeling good about massive diesel trucks picking up bits of paper, glass and plastic in front of our homes each week is all it takes to ‘be green?’ Why not shut down household recycling if we’re concerned about air pollution in Dallas-Fort Worth? Or is it only productive enterprises that must be penalized to meet an overreaching 2010 ozone standard (e.g., when you can fill your gas tank, use drive-through windows or operate off-road construction equipment?)

Related:

  • Chuck out these green myths, Times of London
    This article is a good analysis of the folly of recycling to meet ideological goals rather than asking “what is the best way to dispose of rubbish.” Looks at whole picture (systems approach) rather than stopping with curbside offerings to Gaia. Britain has adopted the EU (a la East Germany) approach to recycling: RFID tags, snitches, fines, cameras, and more.
  • Recycling: What a Waste!, Ludwig von Mises Institute
  • Non-recycling Tory fired. Wow! What a great hiring criteria for companies that want to compete in a global market: “Do you recycle?” “Yes.” “Well then, you’re hired.”
  • Recycle Bin #2, KCL
  • Trash revisited, KCL