What is Recycling?
By Arnold Kling
But I do discard paper plates – for the same reason I recycle my china rather than discard it: it would be wasteful to do otherwise. After all, I could recycle paper plates. Careful washing would enable me to reuse each paper plate two or three times. But valuable time and labor would be wasted. Time I could spend playing with my son, reading a book or fixing a leaky faucet would be wasted cleaning paper plates. And to what purpose? Paper plates are expendable precisely because the materials used to manufacture them are so abundant. This abundance is reflected in their low price.
Economics and environmentalism both value efficiency and decry waste. Economics assumes that the price system works to measure and motivate efficient use of resources. Environmentalism assumes that the price system fails.
An alliance between environmentalism and economics is possible, in which the environmentalist argument becomes an argument that price signals are incorrect. In principle, taxes should be raised on products whose market cost does not reflect the resources that are used in their production and disposal.