Wrong Can

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Residents of a locality in England were recently surprised to find people going through their trash. Understandably concerned about what might be going on near their own homes, they checked into the matter only to be greeted with another unpleasant surprise:

When homeowners questioned the official binmen an hour later they learned their council was conducting a survey of what was being thrown away.

The 'spies' were part of a week-long waste analysis study by the Northamptonshire Waste Partnership, a collaboration of eight local authorities working to reduce rubbish going to landfill. An external contractor was told to go through the bins of residents.

One thousand houses were targeted as part of the survey, including 780 in Northamptonshire.

But none of the inhabitants of Cedar Close, Irchester, near Wellingborough, Northants, had received any notice from their council about what was going on.

Resident Gillian Barnett, 61, said the snoopers made her feel 'very uncomfortable'.

She said: 'Three young men parked outside my house and just started going through my bins - I thought they were pinching my rubbish. It was very suspicious.

'We haven't had a leaftlet or a letter, all my neighbours were going round asking each other what was happening.
Yes. Their local government was spying on them in order to see whether they were recycling. This isn't the first time I've heard of this -- a council in Australia is or was weighing its residents' trash -- but it is the first time I've heard of people being sent door-to-door to examine what items were being thrown away.

Interestingly, while I was glad to see several interviewees outraged about this, I also noted that the anger doesn't go deep enough:
Matthew Elliott, chief executive at the TaxPayers' Alliance, condemned Northampton County Council for what he described as an 'aggressive' campaign.

He said: 'This sneaky behaviour on the part of the council is underhand and alarming.

'Taxpayers are sick and tired of being spied on by their councils, it is an infringement of both their dignity and personal space.

'People are doing all they can to recycle, if they are throwing something away it's because they have to.

'This approach is unnecessarily aggressive and a waste of taxpayers' money and precious resources.'
Elliott's last two sentences undercut what he said earlier, first at the moral level and second at the political. It's the same classic, "I agree with their ends, but not with their means," nonsense I remember from too many people during the Cold War. There is nothing noble about the idea of stealing from the productive.

The whole idea behind recycling -- when it does not actually save money -- is wrong because the only proper moral standard is that which promotes one's own life. When recycling does not make sufficient economic sense to motivate individuals to pursue it selfishly, it is a waste of his time. (This includes when the government imposes such artificial "incentives" as forcing people to pay a few cents extra for, say, an aluminum can, for later redemption.)

Politically, then, government-forced (or even government-"encouraged") recycling is wrong because the government, rather than fulfilling its proper purpose, the protection of individual rights, is instead being subverted towards the goal of forcing people to waste time from their lives. This is always true. The only difference here is that this particular form of coercion was too obvious not to upset most people.

Anyone who is (rightly) upset about the government commissioning the trespass of random garbage cans, rather than throwing trespassers into a different sort of can, has some thinking to do: He should reconsider whether recycling as a moral ideal and whether the government ought to be doing anything other than merely protecting individual rights.

Removing today's government spies one at a time from the trash won't stop this onslaught against property rights. Only individual citizens uprooting their own bad moral and political premises can reverse this trend and lead to better, freer times -- when politicians eventually learn that such behavior will not be tolerated on any level.

If you find some kid rummaging through a trash can near you, ask yourself what put him there. If you support government recycling programs, then you brought it on yourself. Please clean up your act.

-- CAV

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