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.