catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The logic of recycling

with 7 comments

A contributor to the Mises email list reported on a segment from Penn and Teller on recycling. I don’t have sound so I can’t vouch for the content but here is the recommendation.

The first few minutes of the show are a little slow, but within 5 minutes, things pick up. Whatever you do, be sure to watch at least the first 8 or 9 minutes. (The full length is about half an hour.) There’s a sequence in there that you may find so funny you’ll have trouble catching your breath.
Here’s the link: 

Someone else reported that Penn and Teller are libertarians and they have some interesting stuff on their sites.

Written by Admin

November 26, 2006 at 9:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. It is interesting reading the comments. Some people dismiss Penn and Teller out of hand because they disagree with them on global warming. (Penn and Teller seem to have said that anthropogenic global warming is too difficult to prove so far. Not really a controversial view considering Paul Ehrlich predicted catastrophic global cooling in the 1970s).

    The arguments for recycling “it makes sense!”. Note the classic: “we’re running out of raw materials”! Both completely bunk.

    Recycling “just makes sense” eh? Yeah, so do tariffs, public works, social credit and a whole other load of codswobble.

    Simple solution: privatise recycling. Prices dictate what is scarce and force recyclers to be efficient (i.e if we truly are running out of aluminium). State owned recyclers may be efficient, but keeping the incentives aligned to the social policy will be impossible for a sustained period. Only private recyclers have an incentive to use less inputs to create recycled material than it would to create newly produced or refined plastic, glass or metal. If it’s not worth it, they won’t do it. State owned, loss making recyclers are explicitly wasting resources. You would just be subsidising an inefficient form of production.

    Dynamically, making recycling market based would force process-based productivity and capital-based technological changes to make it even more attractive.

    Mark Hill

    November 26, 2006 at 9:42 pm

  2. To answer your other question, yes they are libertarians.

    Here is an old interview with Reason:

    Penn: I covered the Republican convention for Comedy Central, and I said to Torie Clarke [Bush’s campaign press secretary] when she sat down next to me, “Do you have any idea how many people like me there are? There are more than you think, and all you got to do is say I like porno. Faggots and foreigners are OK. I don’t care what people say.'” I told her if she said that, “you will move a couple million people over to the Republican Party, people who kind of like the stuff you’re saying financially, the no-tax-and-spend stuff, although you’re not doing it. But the kind of [family values] stuff you’re saying: Do you really think that this is buying you anything?”

    I would talk to these people off-camera and they would say, “Well, of course I don’t think there’s anything wrong with porno. Of course Bush doesn’t. Nobody does. But we need to do this as part of the whole platform.” And I’d say, “You know, this may sound crazy, but you might want to consider going with what you believe, because there are many, many more people than you think who don’t [care] about this issue.”

    I’m talking about people like my mom, who’s never seen a Playboy and doesn’t want to, who doesn’t understand why people should complain about stuff that costs money that they don’t want being out there. She says, “If you break into my house and open Screw magazine and staple it to the wall, I’m going to be angry. Until you do that, I have no problems. I don’t want it. I also don’t want a microwave. And the only danger I have is that you might buy me one for Christmas. But I tell you I don’t want one and we’re done. I don’t want Playboy. I don’t want a microwave. Why are these two issues different?”

    Jason Soon

    November 26, 2006 at 9:52 pm

  3. i’ve been saying recycling is bullshit for years…


    November 27, 2006 at 12:22 am

  4. Yea, But we need it, Cato. It makes the doctor’s wives feel good about themsevles


    November 27, 2006 at 12:26 am

  5. Landfill is magnificent in its efficiency.

    The truck comes out. Compresses everything. Straight out to landfill.

    No inventories.

    Now those resources are there. Massed to gether, perhaps as a societal insurance policy should we find ourselves without direct access to vital resources.

    This is Walmart-style in its efficiency.

    All those metals and plastics and other gear. Waiting to be converted once the economics turn good for it.

    Just marvellous.

    Actually I look at the potential of extensive monetisation of gear combined with landfill…. as being terrific resource managment.


    November 27, 2006 at 3:12 pm

  6. I watched the show right through. A lot of the swearing seemed pointless but it did make an extremely valid point – just because most people think recyclying must be a good idea does not make it so. Reminds me of global warming.

    Anyway, I have a question for the dismal scientists reading this.

    In Australia there is a program called DrumMuster (, for the collection and recycling of empty farm chemical containers.

    Farmers are encouraged (no compulsion) to rinse the containers and bring them to collection centres where they are inspected for cleanliness. Processors do the rounds of the collection centres where they crush or pelletise the containers and then sell them into the recycling market.

    Metal containers end up being used the same as any other recycled steel (there is a viable market). Recycled plastic containing traces of agricultural chemicals has some uses but they are limited (but more than the program showed).

    DrumMuster is viable because the collection process (mostly done by Councils) and processing are subsidised – not by the government, but by the chemical companies which voluntarily pay a levy on each container to DrumMuster. Not all chemical companies pay, but most do.

    There are several reasons, the main one being the belief that the alternative is a more expensive legislated program. I doubt if the program would continue but for the implied threat from the government. Certainly some bureaucrats trot the threat out from time to time. Another is the view that “stewardship” extends to ensuring the containers are not lying around doing harm.

    My question is this. Although the program is operating in the private sector, if its existence depends on the threat of government coercion, is it merely a variant form of market distortion by the government? Or is it a relatively efficient form of pigouvian taxation?

    Use small words please.


    November 27, 2006 at 6:49 pm

  7. Its inefficient if they are being strong-armed by the threat of force to do this.

    Look at all that activity?

    Totally inefficient.

    Now compare that to landfill. Just throw it in and its one truck ride to the landfill.

    If its not arsenic of some lick-it-and-you’re-dead weed-killer then just throw in in a plastic bag… put two more around it and straight out to the landfill.


    November 28, 2006 at 3:39 pm

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