(Give me liberty or recycle me in a blue box)

Blue boxes have proliferated in Ontario, in London, and now on the UWO campus at such a rapid rate one might think they have reproductive systems. Their pervasiveness and the apparently prevailing attitude that blue boxes are a GOOD THING are cause for considerable concern, however.

The politically correct view seems to be that unless we have blue boxes and unless we use them, we obviously don't care about the environment. In fact, the opposite is true: blue box recycling programs are unfair, wasteful, and costly.

They are unfair because individually, we pay nothing for each extra piece of garbage we create. Instead, we all pay for recycling and garbage collection through the tax system, directly or indirectly, regardless of how much wine or soda pop we drink, and regardless of how many newspapers we throw away. In fact, this unfairness pervades most municipal waste collection programs because they do not charge people according to the amount of garbage they produce.

The result of our having to pay for neither recycling nor garbage collection on a piece-by-piece basis is that we tend to use more of those products than we otherwise would, creating more garbage, putting more containers in the blue boxes, and imposing more costs on the rest of society to cover recycling and garbage collection.

It seems odd that in the name of conservation we negotiate contracts with companies who must hire workers and buy trucks and gasoline to collect recyclables when other jurisdictions do just about as well with much less waste of society's scarce resources. Other places simply charge more per item for disposal and impose large deposit fees on the items that are recyclable. People who buy soft drinks pay a dime or more per container and have an incentive to return the containers to some store. No extra trucks are required to go from house to house, no extra petroleum is used up by the trucks or in the manufacture of the ubiquitous blue boxes.

To be sure, stores find it costly to handle deposits and recyclables. But they would be forced by profit-and-loss considerations to incorporate these extra costs into their prices, thus influencing the purchase of products in recyclable containers and requiring consumers to bear the costs of recycling the containers for things they buy.

But even government-mandated deposit systems are questionable. After all, if it is so valuable to reuse these recyclables, why don't markets for them emerge by themselves?

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Professor Palmer uses his blue box regularly despite disliking the present recycling system.


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