From a British point of view.
May 28, 2007
What a rubbish way to run a country
Thunderer: Tim Worstall
Recycling is based on the near-religious belief that everything has value, everything is worth saving, except your time.
A rather strange belief, given how few of us go into that long, dark night complaining of too much time on our hands while here. Thus, when the acolytes of the faith suggest a new form of Gaia worship, we should have a close look at what this means in terms of our time, as with the latest proposals for recycling domestic waste.
A study into the time spent sorting rubbish to recycle in Seattle showed that for recyclables the average per household was 16 minutes a week. Add in food and garden waste and it rose to 43 minutes. There are 24 million households in the UK, so that adds up to a significant cost – but how should we measure this in monetary terms? We have a law that forbids us from selling our time at less than about £5 an hour: you know it as the minimum wage but it does help us with our calculation, since that is evidently the minimum possible value of our labour. The Worstall Calculator (envelope, 1, pencil, 1) tells us that our time spent in sorting our rubbish by these new rules has a cost of between £1.7 and £4.5 billion.
This might make sense and it might not, depending on what costs we are trying to avoid by employing ourselves in this manner. Fortunately, we again have the Government’s word for this, in a report called Waste Not Want Not from the Strategy Unit. The concern driving the whole process is that domestic waste disposal costs some £1.6 billion a year and that this will rise to £3.2 billion by 2020.
The solution being proposed is thus that we should spend more money than the cost of the entire waste disposal process in sorting the rubbish, before we spend still more collecting it, recycling or incinerating it and then tipping the remainder into the same holes in the ground that we’ve always used. The system will cost more in total than the old one in the name of saving money.