help with internalized costs argument
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 17:13:30 -0500

In reply to Amy Perry who asked for help as follows:

>I spoke as part of a roundtable discussion on the future of recycling at the
>New England Envionmental Expo last week. Joining me on the panel were:
>Earl Gorman, Container Recycling Alliance (glass)
>Paul Thompson, Steel Recycling Institute
>Ron Perkins, American Plastics Council
>MA state recycling director (Robin Ingenthron)
>a local recycling hauler/processor (Ben Harvey)
>Jon Gold, Newark Group (recycled paper manufacturer)
>John Stutz, Tellus Institute
>Steve Anderson from RRS (MRF operator)
>The session was organized and moderated by Edgar Miller, NRC.
>Key questions discussed:
>What is an achievable national recycling rate, what are the major barriers to
>increasing recycling, commodity-specific problems/difficulties, what
>steps/strategies are needed to increase recycling.
>Needless to say, I was the radical of the bunch. But I was not nearly as
>compelling as I should have been on one point: that of internalized costs.
>This is what I mean:
>The conversation continually returned to the cost issue -- recycled
>feedstocks cost more, recycling economics are tough, etc. While we of course
>talked about minimum content standards, procurement, and other market
>improvement tactics to improve recycling's economics, I did not say, nor did
>anyone else, that the root problem is that society has not yet figured out
>how to "price" the value of clean air, etc. so all of the costs being
>discussed were not true, full costs.
>Does anyone on this list have a simple way of explaining this argument, like
>1 or 2 paragprahs, that they have written or read, that I and possibly others
>who, although experienced in the field, could learn from??
>Thanks so much.

Following are the opening few paragraphs from a talk I gave at a forum
similar to the one Amy describes. My suggestion is to relate the issue back
to nature - concluding that industry should 'close the loop' with its
products and packaging and thereby internalise the environmental costs of
production. I hope this helps a bit.

Extract follows ....

It can hardly be argued that we humans act naturally. Given that "natural",
by our own common-day use of the term implies 'uninfluenced by human
activity'. In fact the opposite is true - we humans are influenced by human
activity in everything we think, and everything we do.

Probably the greatest influence on us is caused by that inescapable human
invention - money. The root of all evil as they say. Although it is
probably not the case for many of us here, money drives most people to do
things they wouldn't otherwise do - such as work ridiculous hours, often at
jobs they would otherwise have no interest in. And the money they earn?
Much of it goes towards things they may fleetingly want, but almost
certainly don't need.

I don't need to remind you our society is consumption driven. After all,
it's that consumption, or at least the waste that results, that has brought
us together today. But it is worth reminding you that in nature there is no
waste. So if we desire a less wasteful society perhaps we need to simulate