Economics says recycling is wrong – Mr Terry

Disclaimer: these are not my opinions on recycling I am just expressing an argument against recycling based on common economic analysis to provoke thought and debate – Chris Terry

There is a growing feeling that everything that can be recycled should be recycled and that the long term goal should be zero waste – this is wrong!

There are two generally two arguments in favour of recycling.  The first is that these resources are too valuable to throw away!  In almost all cases, this argument is false, if they were too valuable to throw away, recycling would occur automatically without people having to be forced to do so by local authority regulation.  The second is that recycling is cheaper than putting the waste in landfill.  Empirically, recycling is almost always substantially more expensive than disposing of it in landfill.

To explain let us look at the recycling of glass:


Glass is heavy, that means it is expensive to transport and there is a significant problem and thus cost associated with the glass breaking and cutting workers. Glass is harmless in landfill and breaks down into something very like the sand it came from.

The product that glass can be ground into is called cullet, and it really is not at all valuable, remember that price is a good measure of the usefulness and economic value of something. Green glass cullet sold for between £5 and £15 per ton in 2015 and would cost about 37p per mile to transport!  Mixed cullet, is even less valuable and is almost useless in terms of re-use in forming new glass, turning a dull black when used and nobody wants dull black glass! The sorting needed to avoid this is very time consuming and the cost involved far outweighs the commercial value of the single colour cullet. Those who argue for recycling always seem to forget to take account of the time involved in recycling and the fact that any time comes at a cost.

The alternative to recycling glass is to make new glass. It is much more expensive to convert a ton of cullet in to useable glass than it is to make the same quantity of new glass. That means that recycling, when you add on the fuel costs and pollution impact of collecting small quantities of recycled glass from houses and bottle banks, actually uses more energy, and wastes more resources, than making new glass! It is economically inefficient and society would be better off if it were not recycled.


Are there economic arguments against this analysis, perhaps………..?

Leave a Reply