The Locker Room

Wasting resources is not sustainable

Posted by Dr. Michael Sanera at 07:51 AM

I am on the Wake County Sustainability Task Force.  The task of the group is to provide the county commissioners with recommendations that will make Wake County more "sustainable" in water, energy and solid waste.  In other words, what actions will facilitate the county using fewer resources. 

We tackled solid waste first.  I have tried and tried but it seems that many of the Task Force members cannot or will not understand this fundamental economic axiom so simply expressed at Cafe Hayek by George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux in a letter to the Boston Globe.

Here’s a letter to the Boston Globe:

Bravo for Jeff Jacoby’s clear-eyed assessment of recycling (“Get excited about recycling? Not me,” Sept. 19).  When materials are worth recycling, markets for their reuse naturally arise.  For materials with no natural markets for their reuse, the benefits of recycling are less than its costs – and, therefore, government efforts to promote such recycling waste resources.

Everyday experience should teach us this fact.  The benefits of recycling clothing, for example, are large enough to prompt us to buy costly clothes-recycling machines that we routinely use to recycle for tomorrow the clothes we wear today.  We call these machines “washers and dryers.”  And when American families no longer want their clothing, organizations such as Goodwill come by to gather the discarded garments to recycle them for use by poor people.

People also recycle their homes.  The one I own and live in was previously owned by a family who recycled it – which included refurbishing it – rather than simply discarded it when they moved to another town.  Many people also drive recycled (“used”) cars, stock their homes with recycled (“antique”) furniture, listen to recycled (“used”) CDs, and read recycled (“used”) books.

Markets promote conservation when it’s worthwhile; government promotes it when it’s wasteful.

Donald J. Boudreaux



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