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Recycling Criticism
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In a 1996 article in The New York Times, John Tierney claimed that government mandated recycling wastes more resources than it saves. Some highlights from the article:

  • In cases where recycling truly does save resources, such as with large scraps of aluminum, this will be reflected in market prices, and voluntary recycling will take place. Thus, there is no need for the government to mandate it.
  • Tree farmers plant more trees than they cut down.
  • Government mandated recycling is more expensive than putting the garbage into landfills, which means that this recycling uses up more resources than it saves.
  • Some small towns with landfills are happy to import garbage from other cities and states because it provides jobs and tax revenue.
  • Today''s modern landfills are much cleaner and safer, and much less likely to leak and pollute than the landfills of the past.
  • Regarding the claim that the U.S. is running out of landfill space, Tierney wrote, "A. Clark Wiseman, an economist at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., has calculated that if Americans keep generating garbage at current rates for 1,000 years, and if all their garbage is put in a landfill 100 yards deep, by the year 3000 this national garbage heap will fill a square piece of land 35 miles on each side. This doesn''t seem a huge imposition in a country the size of America. The garbage would occupy only 5 percent of the area needed for the national array of solar panels proposed by environmentalists. The millennial landfill would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the range land now available for grazing in the continental United States. And if it still pains you to think of depriving posterity of that 35-mile square, remember that the loss will be only temporary. Eventually, like previous landfills, the mounds of trash will be covered with grass and become a minuscule addition to the nation''s 150,000 square miles of parkland."

Tierney''s article received a referenced critique from the Environmental Defense Fund, which noted that "the article relied heavily on quotes and information supplied by a group of consultants and think tanks that have strong ideological objections to recycling".

In 2003, the city of Santa Clarita, California was paying $28 per ton to put garbage into a landfill. The city then adopted a mandatory diaper recycling program that cost $1,800 per ton.

In a 2007 article, Michael Munger, the Chair of Political Science at Duke University, wrote, "... if recycling is more expensive than using new materials, it can''t possibly be efficient... There is a simple test for determining whether something is a resource... or just garbage... If someone will pay you for the item, it''s a resource... But if you have to pay someone to take the item away... then the item is garbage."

In a 2002 article for The Heartland Institute, Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute, wrote, "If it costs X to deliver newly manufactured plastic to the market, for example, but it costs 10X to deliver reused plastic to the market, we can conclude the resources required to recycle plastic are 10 times more scarce than the resources required to make plastic from scratch. And because recycling is supposed to be about the conservation of resources, mandating recycling under those circumstances will do more harm than good."

In 2002, WNYC reported that 40% of the garbage that New York City residents separated for recycling actually ended up in landfills.