The Mises Institute monthly, free with membership
Volume 13, Number 12
Don't Recycle: Throw It Away!
Roy E. Cordato
Recycling has a high moral status, mostly because kids come home with bad information
schools and, in turn, use it to intimidate their parents. One poll revealed that 63% of kids have
told Mom or Dad to recycle.
Parents, be ashamed no more! Throw that trash away. There's no virtue in recycling trash that
market won't pay you for. What our kids are learning is grounded in left-wing ideology, not fact
One argument for recycling is that we are running out of landfill space. A "public service"
advertisement on Nickelodeon shows images of a city being buried in its own trash. This is
typical of what passes for environmental education. Just as hysterical are American Education
Publishing's "Comprehensive Curriculum" series and 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do To
In fact, there is no landfill shortage. If all the solid waste for the next thousand
years were put
into a single space, it would take up 44 miles of landfill, a mere .01% of the U.S. landspace.
How about the claim that recycling paper saves trees? Every school kid knows it does. Paper
made from trees. Why not make new paper from old paper and save more trees from being cut
Actually, that doesn't work. Supply meets demand. If tomorrow we suddenly stopped making
bread from wheat, there would be less wheat in the world one year from now. The supply would
have fallen drastically. If everyone stopped eating chicken, the chicken population would not
grow but fall.
The same logic applies to the relationship between paper and trees. If we stopped using
there would be fewer trees planted. In the paper industry, 87% of the trees used are planted to
produce paper. For every 13 trees "saved" by recycling, 87 will never get planted. It is because of
the demand for paper that the number of trees has been increasing in this country for the last fifty
years. The lesson is this: if your goal is to maximize the number of trees, don't recycle.
Others assertions made by recycling advocates are equally problematic. Recycling doesn't
resources. In general, recycling is more expensive than landfilling, with the only exception being
aluminum. As former EPA official J. Winston Porter admitted, "trash management is becoming
much more costly due to...the generally high cost of recycling."
Children are also told that recycling will reduce pollution. They are not told that the
process itself generates a great deal of pollution. Recycling newspapers requires old ink to be
bleached from the pages. This is a chemically intensive process that generates large amounts of
toxic waste, as opposed to the benign waste that would result from simply throwing the papers
Also, curbside recycling programs require more trash pickups per week. This means more
on the road generating more air pollution. Due to mandatory recycling, New York City had to
add two additional pickups per week and Los Angeles has had to double its fleet of trash trucks.
The recyclers have a much more ambitious agenda than they admit to children in public
In Waste Management: Towards a Sustainable Society, O.P. Kharband and E.A.
even complain that builders throw away bent nails and that hospitals use disposable syringes.
"The so-called 'standard of living,'" they conclude "has to be reduced."
Here we have the real goal of the recycling elite. And tragically this reduction in living
has been achieved in the many cities that bought monstrously expensive recycling plants leading
to fantastic waste, high taxes, and financially crippled local governments.
Recyclers are not better citizens. They are just ill-informed. Save the earth, save the trees,
pollution, and this holiday season, unwrap those presents, stuff the paper in a big plastic bag, and
throw it all away.
Roy E. Cordato teaches Economics at Campbell University