Column: China Has a New Year's Resolution, ...

Monday, January 01, 2018

... and So Should We

Landfills: Ready for all our trash. Image via Pixabay.
Whatever you think of New Year's resolutions, a not-so-friendly suggestion for one is heading your way across the Pacific. On January 1, China, which uses "recyclables" as industrial feedstocks, will begin refusing shipments that don't meet its new, higher standards. The prospect of burying our recyclables has made some environmentalists lament the "decades of recycling progress under threat," and others wish the change "will make recycling stronger." Predictably (and incorrectly), greens are reusing the cliché about the Chinese word for crisis meaning both danger and opportunity. Since when has it been a danger to get rid of garbage? And is the alternative really an opportunity? I throw out plastic bottles -- and I think we should take on this challenge, but not in the way environmentalists intend.

Let's be clear about what recycling is. Although you might think it was invented by hippies who, as Ayn Rand once put it, "would pollute any stream by stepping into it," recycling pre-dates China itself, and began the moment someone realized that it saved time, effort, and/or money to re-use an object or any of its raw materials. In fact, the practice was so economical that there was no need for scolds and government bureaucrats...

To continue reading my latest column, please proceed to RealClear Markets.

I would like to thank reader Steve D. and my wife for their comments on an earlier version of this piece.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

I've long wondered how long it will be before we start to mine landfills. To an extent we already do so--methane gas from landfills (generated by the decomposition of organic material) is used to power generators at some landfills. It's not a fantastic source of methane, being inconsistent and of low quality, but where it works it helps reduce the cost of running the landfills.

I've also recently found examples of recycling materials for use in scientific analysis. Microfossil slides can be made using glass slide covers and cardboard bodies (from any source) held together by clips made from old aluminum cans. Leave it to geologists to discover a way to use beer cans!

Recycling wasn't invented by hippies. It was invented by folks who understood that waste is, well, wasteful. They looked upon waste material as raw materials. "Real" microfossil slide clips are expensive; if you have spare metal cans lying around, it makes sense to spend the five minutes it takes to make a dozen or so of your own. Ash makes lye, and is great at cleaning out bowls used to cook animal products--a fact that every housewife in the Middle Ages used to her advantage! Potato peals and grass clippings make good compost, a fact that every gardener used to their advantage for generations. But the unifying theme is "How do I solve a problem I have with the resources I have?" It took the hippies to dissociate use of waste material from productive activities--ie, to give birth to modern recycling.

Gus Van Horn said...


Those are interesting examples of recycling, and remind me of another that, I think I first learned way back from from Dixie Lee Ray's books: spent nuclear fuel. It's very cost-effective to recycle that, but you won't find too many hippies who like the idea.