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[GreenYes] Re: Recycling Glass
I'm having an extraordinarily hard time 
understanding Doug Koplow's responses to my posting 
because he keeps bringing the issue back to short-
term, bottom-line internalized costs, and between 
the lines of his messages I believe infering that we 
shouldn't collect glass in curbside recycling 
programs. Then he also suggests that we should take 
a more comprehensive approach to measuring the value 
of recycling glass. 

I'm confused because I thought that's what I was 
doing - looking at both the internalized and 
externalized upstream (resource acquisition and 
manufacturing) and downstream (waste management 
method) costs of recycling versus throwing away 
glass.  I didn't want to get into a debating contest 
here, but I also don't want to pull back from this 
debate. It's at the heart of the "markets can solve 
any problem" versus the "markets tell you the price 
but not the value" debate. The answer is surely in 
between, but not anywhere close to the "markets can 
solve any problem" answer you get by just comparing 
waste management system internalized costs for 
recycling versus disposal of glass. 

The upstream ecological costs of throwing glass away 
are theoretical only to those who don't live by or 
in the same space as the mine or fossil fuel well. 
They're theoretical to the person who only 
calculates the market system bottom line. That's why 
we're up against the wall with recycling and reuse 
and reduction versus disposal. 

It's cheaper and easier to just throw it in the 
gutter or by the side of the road. But then we don't 
like the consequences of that behavior when it 
becomes widespread or when too many of us do it in 
the same place in a short period of time. So we pass 
laws against those waste management methods. 

Then we find that it's cheaper and easier to just 
throw it in a pile at the edge of town and burn it 
in the open whenever the pile gets too high. But 
then the smoke from the fires and the rats and sea 
gulls from the garbage pile get to be a problem so 
we start to modify that management method. 

And so on, until we get to today's waste disposal 
management methods that push the obvious 
environmental costs out several generations so we 
won't notice what we're doing for a longer while.

But nevertheless we are not paying the real costs of 
our management methods. And the place where we 
really ignore that cost is upstream from our 
consumption and disposal habits -- the ecosystems 
where we externalize the costs of acquiring virgin 
raw materials and refining them into manufacturing 
feedstocks to replace the product discards that we 
throw away.

I thought this was all obvious, but Doug is a smart 
guy and yet I hear him totaling missing the point 
here, so it bears laying out at some length. 
Bundling recycling costs into garbage collection 
rates looks like a cross subsidy from the point of 
view of short-run, bottom-line internalized costs. 
But it looks like internalizing otherwise 
externalized costs of virgin resource acquisition 
from the point of view of all the costs both 
internal and external that flow from waste 
management decisions. 

That's what life cycle analysis keeps throwing in 
our faces - HEY FOLKS! WAKE UP! Your missing the 
really big cost issues here and concentrating on the 
minutia. Sure collecting glass causes some 
difficulties that we wish would go away. But not 
collecting glass curbside means we force that really 
big ecological and public health cost onto those 
(current and future, human and non-human) who live 
around that glass sand mine and fossil fuel well 
that both need to be bigger to produce the extra 
fuel it takes to turn sand and soda ash and calcium 
carbonate into a glass container versus making that 
container from recycled glass. And the concentric 
ripples of that additional mining and fuel well 
drilling spread out beyond the immediate 
neighborhood of the mines and wells to add an 
additional butden of pollution to the air and water, 
eventually driving up health and welfare costs 
across the entire ecosystem and then the planet.

So, NO, I don't think we're cross-subsidizing, nor 
is this analysis I'm describing uncomprehensive. The 
point is the market doesn't send the correct price 
signals and those who only look at market prices and 
costs will get the wrong answer (from a long-term 
societal point of view) every time in making 
resource management choices.

I apologize to anyone offended by this direct 
response to Doug's postings.

Jeff Morris

Dr. Jeffrey Morris
Sound Resource Management - Bellingham Office
112 Ohio Street, Suite 202
Bellingham, WA 98225

360-738-0255
360-738-0256 fax
www.soundresource.com or www.zerowaste.com
jeff.morris@zerowaste.com 
                   
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