Has recycling become a national religion?

Tom Jackson
Mar 23, 2010

Michael Munger, an economist who is the chairman of the political science department at Duke University, says Americans are being pushed to recycle even when it doesn’t make any sense.
Munger even says that mandatory recycling programs violate the Constitution’s separation between religion and the government.
Here’s my mini-interview with Dr. Munger:
Q. Some materials are so valuable they are “recycled” without the aid of a government program. For example, it’s not uncommon to read about abandoned houses being stripped of copper.
If the stuff that’s placed in government recycling bins was really valuable, would government recycling programs be needed?
A. Mandatory recycling is a violation of the separation of church and state.
 Voluntary recycling is what people do because of the value of the material.
 But mandatory recycling, by definition, takes material that would NOT be recycled voluntarily, diverts it from the waste stream, and handles it several times before using it again in a way that wastes resources.
 The only explanation for this behavior that I can think of is a religious ceremony, a sacrifice of resources as a form of worship. I have no problem if people want to do that. As religions go, it is fairly benign. But REQUIRING that religious sacrifice of resouces is a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
Q. My wife makes sure I recycle newspaper, bottles and plastic (I have to look at the bottom of each plastic bottle to see if it’s a “1” or “2.”) What materials do you recycle at your home, and what do you just toss in the trash?
A. I check commodity prices.  Green bottles are ALWAYS a waste of resources to recycle; brown bottles often are.
Right now, clear glass, corrugated cardboard, and aluminum are all real resources, because someone will pay a positive price for them.  Everything else, though, is garbage, and “recycling” it doesn’t change the fact that it is garbage.
For more of Munger’s views, see this column.
For a defense of recycling programs, see the Environmental Defense Fund’s “Anti-Recycling Myths” document.
Munger blogs at Kids Prefer Cheese.