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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Recycling clothes and houses

A neat insight from Don Boudreaux

From Cafe Hayek comes this:

When materials are worth recycling, markets for their reuse naturally arise.  For materials with no natural markets for their reuse, the benefits of recycling are less than its costs - and, therefore, government efforts to promote such recycling waste resources.

Everyday experience should teach us this fact.  The benefits of recycling clothing, for example, are large enough to prompt us to buy costly clothes-recycling machines that we routinely use to recycle for tomorrow the clothes we wear today.  We call these machines "washers and dryers."  And when American families no longer want their clothing, organizations such as Goodwill come by to gather the discarded garments to recycle them for use by poor people.

People also recycle their homes.  The one I own and live in was previously owned by a family who recycled it - which included refurbishing it - rather than simply discarded it when they moved to another town.  Many people also drive recycled ("used") cars, stock their homes with recycled ("antique") furniture, listen to recycled ("used") CDs, and read recycled ("used") books.

Markets promote conservation when it's worthwhile; government promotes it when it's wasteful.

I'd never really thought about recycling in that way.

There is, of course, another reason to recycle even if it is costly and wasteful -- to prevent litter. But I have a feeling it achieves this rather poorly. Indeed, when it is costly or inconvenient and disposal is not made available as an option, people just break the rules and dump litter instead, so recycling can make litter worse.