Cans Saved, Industry Trashed

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

A lengthy article about a trend in San Fransisco to shutter neighborhood recycling centers provides a morbidly interesting look at what it calls the "ecosystem" spawned by California's nickel and dime bottle tax. More interesting to me is what Frédéric Bastiat might have called the "unseen", as well as the barely-glimpsed parts of this story.

The first community recycling operations appeared in San Francisco in the 1970s. They followed two decades of increasing environmentalism efforts including the first celebration of Earth Day, the Clean Air Act, and the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency. By the early 1980s, all the precedents of modern recycling systems existed. Scavenger associations dating back to Italian immigrants making a living by recycling materials gave way to formal, licensed operators and the first curbside collection bins. (New, unlicensed scavengers were partly responsible for the failure of curbside bins at the time.) Community recyclers ran small buyback programs. [links in original, bold added]
It is interesting to see an entire article bemoaning the lost "opportunity" a possible center closure represents, but barely mentioning as an aside the wholesale destruction of an entire venerable industry by these environmentalist taxes and regulations. That said industry existed even before the government over-incentivized the collection of aluminum and plastic for recycling testifies to its superior cost-effectiveness. A real opportunity to make a profit has been replaced by widespread scrounging for nickels and dimes.

Near its end, the article claims that bottle taxes disproportionally hurt the poor. This is even after unwittingly (1) showing in excruciating detail what a dangerous, inefficient, and demeaning wealth redistribution system this is (not to defend the theft that any such scheme requires); and (2) alluding to actual opportunities in trash removal and resource reclamation that once (or could have) existed without the government stealing -- nickels, dimes, and refuse -- from practically everyone to artificially raise the prices of aluminum and plastic. These taxes do hurt the poor, but not in the way it implies.

-- CAV

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