The Michigan Times, the student newspaper at the University of Michigan-Flint, is reporting that:
The fifth annual Recycling Challenge began on campus March 1. Throughout the month of March, the University of Michigan–Flint, Baker College, Mott Community College, and Kettering University will be collecting recyclables in partnership with their sponsors, the City of Flint and Republic Services, Flint’s residential curbside recycling program contractor.
The winners of this year’s challenge will be announced at the Earth Day Celebration on the UM–Flint campus, on Saturday, April 12, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There are two categories of awards: The “Most Pounds per Student” and the “Most Pounds of Recyclables Overall per Campus.”
Republic Services will be at the Earth Day celebration to assist more residents in signing up for the city’s curbside recycling program. The City of Flint hopes to remind residents and celebrate that the program began about one year ago.
“It is very encouraging to see our area college students, who represent our city’s future, get involved in championing our recycling program,” stated Flint Mayor Dayne Walling in a UM-Flint press release. “This friendly competition is hoped to increase awareness about recycling and its importance around the community and campuses.”
To be fair and balanced, let me declare April 12 (the date the awards will be announced) forever more be known in Flint as “Recycling Competitions Squander Valuable Resources and Encourage College Students to Engage in Wasteful Activities Day.” To make my case, I present the article “Recycling Myths Revisted” by Daniel Benjamin, published by the Property and Environment Resource Center (PERC). Here’s a summary:
In his essay, Daniel Benjamin takes us through the common claims asserted on behalf of the multi-billion dollar recycling programs that are generally presumed to be wise public policy. Benjamin applies careful analysis to the claims made over the years about the “need” for mandatory recycling—and finds them to be bogus. He reminds us that before we rush into costly policies presumed to be saving the environment, sound science and analysis of the facts, which are rarely as interesting as fantastic scare stories, are much to be desired in a society that values freedom in markets and personal choice.
Specifically, Benjamin addresses and debunks each of these 8 commonly-held myths about recycling and the environment:
Myth 1: We are running out of space for our trash.
Myth 2. Trash threatens our health and ecosystem.
Myth 3. Packaging is our problem.
Myth 4. Trade in trash is wasteful.
Myth 5. We are running out of resources.
Myth 6. Recycling always protects the environment.
Myth 7. Recycling saves resources.
Myth 8. Without recycling mandates, there wouldn’t be recycling.
Each of those myths is false, and Benjamin explains why in detail in his article.
Here’s the conclusion of Benjamin’s article, which provides the justification for creating “Recycling Competitions Squander Valuable Resources and Encourage College Students to Engage in Wasteful Activities Day”:
Recycling is a long-practiced, productive, indeed essential, element of the market system. Informed, voluntary recycling conserves resources and raises our wealth, enabling us to achieve valued ends that would otherwise be impossible. In sharp contrast, however, mandatory recycling programs, in which people are compelled to do what they will not do voluntarily, routinely make society worse off. Such programs force people to squander valuable resources in a quixotic quest to save what they would sensibly discard. On balance, mandatory recycling programs lower our wealth.
Misinformation about the costs and benefits of recycling is as destructive as mandatory recycling programs, for it induces people to engage in wasteful activity. Public service campaigns and “educational” programs that exaggerate the benefits of recycling fall into this category, but there are other offenders as well. For example, bottle and can deposit laws, which effectively misinform people about the true value of used beverage containers, induce people to waste resources collecting and processing items that appear to be worth five (or even ten) cents, given their redemption prices, but in fact are worth a penny or less to society (EPA 2001). Similarly, costly government-run recycling programs that pick up recyclables at no charge give people the incentive to engage in too much recycling. They give the appearance that the programs are without cost, when in fact they consume valuable resources that could be used in far more highly valued pursuits.
The free market system is eminently capable of providing both disposal and recycling in an amount and mix that creates the greatest wealth for society. This makes possible the widest and most satisfying range of human endeavors. Simply put, market prices are sufficient to induce the trashman to come, and to make his burden bearable, and neither he nor we can hope for any better than that.
Further required reading for “Recycling Competitions Squander Valuable Resources and Encourage College Students to Engage in Wasteful Activities Day” is the classic 1996 New York Times Magazine article “Recycling is Garbage” by New York Times science columnist John Tierney. Tierney’s main point in the article was that “Rinsing out tuna cans and tying up newspapers may make you feel virtuous, but recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.” That one sentence gives you an idea of why Tierney’s article broke the record for the greatest volume of hate mail in New York Times history.
Recommended viewing to celebrate “Recycling Competitions Squander Valuable Resources and Encourage College Students to Engage in Wasteful Activities Day” is the Penn and Teller episode “Recycling is Bullshit” below, featuring Daniel Benjamin, author of the study above.
Bottom Line: If I could hold a separate ceremony on April 14 to celebrate “Recycling Competitions Squander Valuable Resources and Encourage College Students to Engage in Wasteful Activities,” I would present awards for two categories: the “Least Pounds of Recyclables per Student” and the “Least Pounds of Recyclables Overall per Campus,” to reward the college students at the local college that squandered the least amount of resources (including the opportunity cost of their time) engaging in the wasteful activity of recycling.