Daniel Hamermesh on Recycling

Posted by Nolan Miller on Jan 31, 2011

Filed Under (Environmental Policy)

Daniel Hamermesh has an interesting post over on the Freakonomics blog about his recent trip to Germany and their approach to recyclingGermany has quie strict recycling rules, and Germans are required to separate their “excess” into bio, packing, paper, white glass, green glass, brown glass, and everything else.  As in the US, the recycling requirements raise the prices of recyclables (e.g., think of the deposit tacked onto cans and bottles in many states).  However, Hamermesh points out the additional benefit.  The extra effort needed to property sort and recycle everything (and he reports there’s no recycling on Sundays) probably discourages people from buying recyclables in the first place.  This latter effect, he proposes, might be more important for the environment than the actual recycling.

This got me thinking about ways we could kill two birds with one stone in this country.  Environmental economists like to think about “double dividends” such as how environmtal taxes have the dual benefits of helping the environment and allowing the government to reduce other taxes.  Well, what about if we required, say, 10 push-ups every time a person used a plastic water or soda bottle?  This would help people get in shape, and, given our national aversion to exercise, would probably result in a large reduction in bottle use as people move to reusable containers and find other ways to avoid a little exercise.  Think about it.  The possibilities are endless …

One Response to “Daniel Hamermesh on Recycling”

  • Don Fullerton says:

    I have three reactions. First, it’s not efficient for people to be doing their own separating of the recyclable materials. they are not trained, they are slow, they make mistakes, and they need more bins for each type of material. Much more efficient to do it centrally, and quickly, on a conveyor belt, by “trained professionals.” the city simply does not count the cost of the human resources, if they don’t have to actually pay for it! … Second, Dan Hamermesh is a blow-hard. … Third, when Marty Feldstein and the NBER were ALL talking about the savings benefits of a consumption tax, I tried to sell them on the idea that the waste-deposit aspects of a depost-refund system was actually an efficiency argument for a consumption tax, irrespective of encouraged savings.