Wasting Resources to Reduce Waste: Recycling in New Jersey

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A growing number of states and cities are enacting recycling laws to encourage or mandate recycling, and the Clinton administration promises to do the same at the federal level. Unfortunately, those measures neither conserve scarce resources nor help to protect the environment. Because New Jersey’s household recycling law is one of the most comprehensive in the nation, it is a salutary example of the follies of mandatory recycling.

The quantity of goods recycled as a result of New Jersey’s Mandatory Recycling Act amounts to approximately 0.5 million ton per year. The net cost of mandatory recycling (measured by the value of landfill savings and recyclables minus the value of the resources consumed by the recycling effort) is in excess of $35 million per year, yet New Jersey’s law results in the recycling, not of 48 percent, as claimed by state officials, but of less than 4 percent of total targeted municipal solid wastes.

The main beneficiaries of the program are government bureaucrats; local governments; and the waste management, public relations, and recycling industries. The losers are the households and commercial establishments that finance recycling through hidden taxes but derive no appreciable environmental benefit.

Grant W. Schaumburg Jr. and Katherine T. Doyle

Grant Schaumburg, Jr., is an investment manager at Mount Lucas Management Corporation in Princeton, New Jersey. Katherine T. Doyle is a recent graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy at Princeton University.