A bit on the (non) economics of recycling

Great article about recycling. An economic viewpoint, as always, yields insight.

‘Excess’ packaging may seem unnecessary, but it is essential for a consumerist economy. Packaging allows goods to be sold in bulk and keeps food fresh. In accordance with the cost-cutting motive, manufacturers are likely to reduce packaging over time anyway, one example being the milk carton replacing the heavy glass bottles of 20 years ago (Morris 2003). . . .

It may seem like common sense that government-imposed targets help reduce waste even more. Julian Morris (2003), however, worries that such targets distort or create more waste. ‘The government’s (or regulator’s) knowledge of what use of resources is most efficient is likely in most cases to be less complete than that of the individual manufacturers, who must day after day assess the costs of inputs and prices of outputs’.