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May 25, 2007

Yet Even More Bloody Recycling

The Times leader:

Recycling is a cause which few, if any, will speak against.

I will, I will, over here teacher! It's based upon the idea that everything is valuable, everything is worth conserving, except your time. Given how few of us go into that long dark night complaining that we had too much of said time on our hands while here it's an absurdity in and of itself.

The market in recycled paper, benefiting from a broad network of intermediaries buzzing between waste paper collectors and reusers of recycled raw material, is relatively sophisticated.

It also uses more energy than making virgin paper. This increases CO2 production, not reduces it.

May 25, 2007 in Environmentalism | Permalink


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It is worse than the energy - burying waste paper in a landfill could be considered a carbon sink. Grow more trees, pull more CO2 out of the atmosphere!

As is plainly seen, all this green guff is just a means of control and taxation.

If paper recycling was economically viable it would need no subsidy and people would be vying for our refuse.

Posted by: Roger Thornhill | May 25, 2007 10:58:19 AM


Having read this PoV here many times, I can't actually remember the sources for it. ie are there actually any economic studies showing that recycling uses more resources than landfill. Or is it a case of manufacturers paying for virgin pulp but needing a subsidy to recycle?

Are there any studies to show the opposite? I left a comment on Miliband's blog the other day, asking this question, but it doesn't seem to have made it past the moderators. Wonder why?

Tim adds: There's an FoE paper out there on the web stating that "recycling will get better" from a few years ago. But even they had to admit that currently, recycling uses more resources than virgin paper.

Posted by: Bishop Hill | May 25, 2007 11:02:36 AM

Of course time is valuable, but this needs to be compared against personal benefit. Though our recycling rate is low, the fact that it is positive at all shows that many people the personal benefit is sufficient to cover the opportunity cost of time (and other resources, such as household space). Obviously, this need not be the case for everyone.

I agree with what you say about paper. Plastic bags are another cause célèbre at the moment, though I think they only contribute about 3% of waste going to landfill in the UK. Not much compared to kitchen waste (17%), which is also a much bigger contributer to methane emissions than plastics.

Posted by: Harry | May 25, 2007 11:14:27 AM

I was reading about this whole recycling lark a while back.

Its all down to the EU and the stupidly huge fines we are having to pay every year for being different to the rest of Europe.

The story is here http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/

Question is, even when you point out that it takes more energy to recycle than it does to make fresh, how do you demonstrate this to the average man in the street?

Common sense seems to be that if you take a raw product which looks completely different to the end product and compare it to a recyclable product which looks just like your end product, which one do you think would be the least amount of trouble to manufacture?

Ahh, Common sense - surprisingly uncommon!

Posted by: F0ul | May 25, 2007 11:15:46 AM

@Roger Thornhill

Burying the paper would only act as a carbon sink if it does not rot. If it rots completely and just produces water and CO2 then it would be largely neutral. If it produces a large amount of methane then burying it is perhaps not such a good idea. I have no idea if anyone has researched this however.

Posted by: Alastair | May 25, 2007 11:30:09 AM

Bishop Hill: The type of study you are looking for is life cycle assessment studies that include an economic valuation stage. This allows all environmental impacts to be converted into the same metric for comparison. A quick search on google scholar for "recycling LCA" gives a whole host of studies that do this.

The only one I looked at is "Lifecycle assessment and economic evaluation of
recycling: a case study" by two guys at UEA. They compare recycling against landfill, and find that recycling paper is much better than landfilling it (net benefit of £226 in 1996 money). I would say that is a better comparison than comparing recycled paper to new paper, in that if we are going to produce waste paper, we have to dispose of it somehow. Tim's comparison doesn't take this into account.

I'm sure one could find a whole load of studies to the contrary though.

Posted by: Harry | May 25, 2007 11:34:42 AM

Paper is probably one of the worst waste streams from which to gain understanding of costs and benefits involved in recycing.

The question is not whether recycling is "good" or not but whether being coerced
to recycle (with all attendant costs, including time) is good.

If there were no legally-mandated "recycling" of paper whatever, the gross proportions of produced paper which wouldn't get reused would still be relatively small. That's because it has nearly always been profitable ("good") to reclaim and reuse that particular resource. My guess is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-90% of all the paper produced was being recycled well before anyone even thought of the word (which would mean that all of the coercion is expended in getting the relatively small proportion that would escape treatment under normal market conditions).

This is true, if to somewhat lesser extent, of all other coercive recycling schemes. "Cost of the coercion" is not seen at true height because figures are spread over the entirety--rather than attributed, more correctly, to just that additional stream of waste accommodated as the result of coercion. Further, even such recognition cannot begin to address the economic effects properly. For example, the increased quantities collected due to coercion may entirely rearrange priorities in associated enterprise of collection and processing, in which coercion of citizens is transmuted to a subsidy--differentially supportive of less-efficient firms (and methods).

Posted by: gene berman | May 25, 2007 12:57:08 PM

Tim - what's your source for the statement:

"It also uses more energy than making virgin paper. This increases CO2 production, not reduces it." ?

I've always thought that making recycled paper used less energy. Wikipedia seems confused on the issue at best, giving a figure for a paper mill, but not the associated external CO2 emissions from transport etc.

Can you fill me in?

It's out there somewhere in Google. An FoE report on the subject.

Posted by: Marty | May 25, 2007 1:38:01 PM

Is recycling glass worthwhile?
P.S. we recycle plastic bags in that they are used as cat-poo receptacles before binning.

Posted by: The Pedant's Apprentice | May 25, 2007 1:49:32 PM