Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The False Promise of Recycling

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The False Promise of Recycling

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Curbside Recycling in the Presence of Alternatives" by Timothy K. M. Beatty, Peter Berck, and Jay P. Shimshack, in Economic Inquiry, Oct. 2007.

THE THREATENED CATACLYSM of global warming has eclipsed the environmental battles over bottle deposits and recycling that once engaged city and state governments. But three economists who have studied the effects of curbside recycling in California have found surprising results: Cities that launch expensive programs to pick up bottles and cans at the curb--rather than ask residents to drop them off at recycling centers--get little extra for their money.

Americans produce 375 million tons of municipal solid waste every year, about 1.3 tons for every man, woman, and child. Between 25 and 30 percent of it is recycled, and municipal programs to collect bottles and cans at the curb now cover about half of the U.S. population, according to Timothy K. M. Beatty of the University of British Columbia, Peter Berck of the University of California, Berkeley, and Jay P. Shimshack of Tufts University.

Most of the research on curbside recycling has merely toted up the amount collected by the trucks plying the neighborhoods. …

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