Thursday, January 03, 2013

16 Minutes A Week

One of the standard arguments for mandatory recycling is that it only takes a few minutes a week.  According to economist Tim Worstall, no government anywhere has actually calculated this, but it seems plausible that the number is low.  I would also note the required inconvenience of having to be home at some time near the pickup, to put out the bin, or to drive it over during the set times at the recycling center.  If you are gone all week, fine, because you didn’t fill the bin anyway.  But at our house we can’t all go away Wednesday and come home Friday.  Such things are a small inconvenience for us, because we don’t go away Wednesday to Friday.  But somebody somewhere does, and the inconvenience for her is quite sizable.  Taking the population as a whole, the recycling work and possible inconvenience may be small, but they aren’t nothing. 

Yet it is treated as nothing.  It’s forced labor, distributed over many people, but added together is a hell of a lot of work.  One academic estimate is that a simple plan takes 16 minutes a week, a more complicated one takes 45.  Protesting to the government or raising a stink is likely more trouble than the 45 minutes, so no one bothers to say anything.  When you add it all up, it’s rather a lot.  1-3 hours a month from everyone for your pet project and you could do quite a bit, couldn’t you?  My particular idea would be sending everyone to church once a month – it’s about the same time commitment.  Or at least, some uplifting reading that I get to choose. 

Consider how much the other arguments depend on this key fact that the time is minimal.  It’s good for the society.  How good?  What precisely are we getting back? In practice, not in theory, that is – and don’t forget to count the cost of the trucks and the pollution from driving around every week. People like to feel they are helping out.  Not everyone.  I should work so that you feel warm inside?  We’re saving money in the long run.  Did I mention the trucks? Some things are money savers, sure.  That’s why people used to collect cans, or smash up cars for scrap, or strip copper pipes when no one’s looking now.  You will notice no one was made to do those things. Yes but you’ll find it’s a better life if you act like we morally superior people do – Oops, did I say that out loud?

My idea is good for society and it’s not a very big time commitment.  People should be fined if they don’t go to church.  Or uplifting reading, if you prefer.  You will find that it’s a better life.  I was going to say there wouldn’t be any of those trucks, but I’m thinking buses would increase, so that’s a wash.

Landfills are expensive, that’s certainly a cost of not recycling.  But I don’t see how we are making claims about saving money when we haven’t factored in the value of people’s time.  It’s a pretty regressive tax, I would say.


terri said...

When I read this...all I could hear is "Get off my lawn"! :-)

terri said...
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terri said...

I'll initial comment was a reaction to you comparing recycling to forced labor.

Really? AS far as I know most municipal recycling programs are entirely voluntary. You don't have to recycle if you don't want to. No secret police is going to be going through your trash checking up on you. You aren't going to be incurring fines for empty plastic water bottles in your trash.

I balk at the term forced labor. No one makes you recycle.

Now...if you feel societal shame for not doing so, that is an entirely different animal. There are many things that we feel "forced" to do because of the communities/groups we live in. You can refuse to do them...but that comes with a price...usually a loss of reputation/admiration/regard of some sort.

You can never get away from that type of "force" no matter what group you frequent.

terri said...
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Texan99 said...

If recycling made sense, someone could make a profit doing it.

We recycle all our organics, by dropping our compostable garbage into a special can and by keeping all our leaves and brush onsite. We do that because we want to let it turn into dirt, and we'd prefer not to pay for dirt at the store and drive it home. Ditto for cardboard boxes, which we use in sheet-mulching.

What we can't reuse onsite, we put out once a week for the private company that collects garbage here for a fee. If we had more garbage than will fit in one can, we'd have to buy a second contract, an expense we're motivated to avoid.

Economics works.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Terri- there are locales where you have to purchase your trash bags for non-recycled items from the authorities. The sanitation engineers won't take your trash away otherwise. No baggy - no trashy, so to speak.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

AVI - Worried about time? Try being a consultant/contractor/ accountant/attorney and filling out time sheets in 10 or 15 minute increments for 35 years. You become painfully aware of time with a big "T." "Now, lemme see, what DID I do last Tuesday afternoon between 1:45 and 2:00 PM??"

terri said... you're saying that in NH that you have to buy specific trash bags from the govt.?

You can't just pick up regular ones from Wal-Mart or the grocery store?

I learned something new today. I wonder who the private contractor is that supplies the bags and who they know on the local board!

Still, we're talking specifically about recycling, which is still not required. You can load up those special bags with all the plastic water bottles you want and no one is going to throw you in jail.

I recall reading a blog a few years ago by an American living in Japan and the trash system they have there. SHe had a terrible time figuring it out because there were specific ways to dispose of almost anything. SHe came out one morning to find that her neighbors were going through her garbage and putting it all in the correct bags/bins/whatever.

She described the experience as extremely embarrassing because of the level of irritation and disapproval evident in her neighbors' scowls.

SJ said...

@Texan, There is money in recycling.

At least for copper, steel, aluminum. Possibly old electronics, if they have gold or silver in the components.

Not so much paper or plastic, the usual curbside stuff. There is some money there, but anyone who has a trash-pickup and recycling-pickup service pays for it somehow. (In my case, it's one of the sub-categories in City property taxes. Though I've lived in areas where I had to purchase trash-bags from the City.)

Sam L. said...

Other people's time and other people's money is not a concern for those who just know they are morally superior and demand we emulate them.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Terri - The govt-issued trash bags are specially marked so they can't be confused with store-bought ones. I guess you could stuff those with recyclable stuff if your wallet didn't complain. Just like you can speed past a Statie if you don't mind paying the fines.

But in NH? This is the Live-Free-Or-Die state. We don't have enforced color-coded trash bags (yet). We leave that level of govt oversight to those semi-Commie states - you know, like MA and NY! Concord, MA just banned the sale of individual disposable water bottles. We'll have to see how that goes over.

But actually, since each NH town decides it's own policies, I couldn't entirely rule out some form of trash policing in the future. In my humble town, like many here, there is no town-run curbside trash pick up of any kind. You have two options - hire a private trash firm (like Waste Management) and get a monthly bill, or take your stuff to the dump yourself. It's actually a fairly well-run recycling & transfer station, but everyone still calls it the dump. I, of course being frugal, take the latter path. Plus, that's where you meet all your neighbors to chat for a few minutes, buy cookies from the Girl Scouts, and shake hands with the politicians running for office. It's the place to be on a Saturday.

Texan99 said...

Well, we're out in the non-municipal part of the county, where they don't even pick up trash, let alone recyclables. All of our waste disposal is up to us or to the private companies with whom we contract, so we're free to do whatever makes sense in terms of time, effort, and our concern for ecology. Ditto for our water supply, sewage disposal, and gas, though we are connected to an electric utility system.