Resources Versus Refuse in Recycling

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Almost every state has a policy to discourage dumping trash, or waste, into the landfill. Reducing waste makes sense and saves resources. But is it logical to reduce the amount of waste put into the landfill when the alternative comes at a higher cost? Some policies encourage exactly that.

Waste is something that is low in value and costly to reuse. A resource, on the other hand, is an item that provides value for use where the costs of reusing the item are less than the value added from its use. Reusing, or recycling, resources makes sense and is a choice that markets help us make. People are willing to pay for a resource which signals to the owner that there is a value for it.

It is a widely held belief that we are running out of landfill space and, hence, should reduce the amount of garbage we dump. As shown by the chart above, the number of landfills has declined over the past two decades. Landfill capacity, however, has increased. According to the EPA, the number of years of remaining available landfill space has increased from about 9.5 years in 1990 to 20 years today. Landfill dumping fees (tipping fees shown on the graph) also demonstrate there is no lack of landfill space available. Tipping fees rose in the late 1980s and early 1990s in response to increased EPA regulations but have declined slightly since.

Recycling resources makes sense. Recycling garbage is a waste of resources.

Originally posted at Environmental Trends

Holly Fretwell is a Research Fellow at PERC and an adjunct instructor at Montana State University where she has taught  introductory economics, macroeconomics, natural resources and environmental economics. She works with the Foundation for Teaching Economics, giving workshops for  high school teachers to improve their skills in teaching and using...
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