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Archive for September 19th, 2010

Jeff Jacoby analyzes the absurd tendency of local governments to coerce residents into costly – and inefficient – recycling programs. As a resident of Fairfascist…oops, I mean Fairfax…County in Virginia, I already am painfully aware of this bureaucratic impulse.
….recyclables will all go into 64-gallon “toters,’’ which will be emptied at curbside on trash day. …Then I start reading the fine print. It turns out that when the town says it is “eliminating sorting,’’ what it means is that glass bottles and jars can be recycled, but not drinking glasses or window glass. It means plastic tubs are OK to toss in the toter, but plastic bags aren’t. It means that while cardboard boxes must be flattened, milk and juice cartons must not be flattened. Reams of office paper are fine, but not the wrappers they came in. Tinfoil should be crushed into balls of 2 inches or larger; tin cans shouldn’t be crushed at all. I don’t think the green police will haul me off in handcuffs if I try to recycle an ice cream carton or a pizza box, but the town has warned that “there will be fines’’ for residents whose “recycling protocols’’ don’t measure up to “basic community standards.’’ …To be fair, things could be worse. Clevelanders will soon have to use recycling carts equipped with radio-frequency ID chips, the Plain Dealer reported last month. These will enable the city to remotely monitor residents’ compliance with recycling regulations. “If a chip shows a recyclable cart hasn’t been brought to the curb in weeks, a trash supervisor will sort through the trash for recyclables. Trash carts containing more than 10 percent recyclable material could lead to a $100 fine.’’ In Britain, where a similar system is already in place, fines can reach as high as $1,500. …Does any of this make sense? It certainly isn’t economically rational. Unlike commercial and industrial recycling — a thriving voluntary market that annually salvages tens of millions of tons of metal, paper, glass, and plastic — mandatory household recycling is a money loser. Cost studies show that curbside recycling can cost, on average, 60 percent more per ton than conventional garbage disposal. In 2004, an analysis by New York’s Independent Budget Office concluded, according to the New York Times, that “it cost anywhere from $34 to $48 a ton more to recycle material, than to send it off to landfills or incinerators.’’ “There is not a community curbside recycling program in the United States that covers its cost,’’ says Jay Lehr, science director at the Heartland Institute and author of a handbook on environmental science. They exist primarily to make people “feel warm and fuzzy about what they are doing for the environment.’’ But if recycling household trash makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy, why does it have to be compulsory? Mandatory recycling programs “force people to squander valuable resources in a quixotic quest to save what they would sensibly discard,’’ writes Clemson University economist Daniel K. Benjamin. “On balance, recycling programs lower our wealth.” Now whose idea of exciting is that?

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National Review has a column reviewing a new book, 3 Billion and Counting, that dissects the harsh human cost of banning DDT. There are things that should be banned, of course, but such decisions should be based on sound science and cost-benefit analysis. Sadly, that’s not what happened with the politically-motivated decision to ban this particular pesticide. 
3 Billion and Counting, which premieres this Friday in Manhattan, was produced by Dr. Rutledge Taylor, a California physician who specializes in preventive medicine. His film will both shock and anger you. DDT was first synthesized in 1877, but it was not until 1940 that a Swiss chemist demonstrated that it could kill insects without any harm to humans. It was introduced into widespread use during World War II and became the single most important pesticide in maintaining human health for the next two decades. The scientist who discovered the insecticidal properties of DDT, Dr. Paul Müller, was awarded the 1948 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on DDT. (In the 1940s and 1950s the chemical was the “secret” ingredient in a popular new cocktail, the Mickey Slim: gin, with a pinch of DDT.) In 1962, Rachel Carson’s lyrical but scientifically flawed book, Silent Spring, argued eloquently, but erroneously, that pesticides, especially DDT, were poisoning both wildlife and the environment – and also endangering human health. …In Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), DDT spraying had reduced malaria cases from 2.8 million in 1948 to 17 in 1963. After spraying stopped, malaria cases rose sharply, reaching 2.5 million over the next decade. Scientists have never found an effective substitute for DDT — and so the malaria death rate has kept on soaring.

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