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Hi Folks,

Re: Stephan Dubner’s interview on Good Morning America, we (Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon and the Carnegie Mellon Economic Input Output-Life Cycle Assessment model online at, Frank Ackerman of Tufts and author of Why do We Recycle and co-author of Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing, and myself) have developed the Consumer Environmental Index (CEI) that measures and tracks the climate change, human toxics and ecosystem toxics impacts of consumer expenditures each year – from resource extraction to production to retail sale and consumer use and through to end-of-life management of discards. The short answer to Stephan Dubner – recycling and composting a household’s discards (paper, glass/metal/plastic containers, yard debris and food scraps) is equivalent to reducing consumption of vehicle fuels, motor oils and repairs by 25% through using mass transit to commute to work frequently enough to attain that 25% reduction. 


So the environmental benefit of recycling and composting is enormous, even though we sometimes have to pay more to recycle than we do to throw discards in the garbage.  The reason that economics and environment are often at odds – emissions to air, water and land of pollutants is typically free, i.e, free disposal of these toxic and climate changing wastes, so the profit or cost/benefit bottom line driven household or business or governmental or non-profit agency saves dollars by throwing things away.  The fact that polluting and wasting is mostly free is at the heart of why we have such a difficult time finding ways to make recycling compete economically with wasting.


You can see a quick description of the CEI at our website and download the presentation slides that Scott and I used when we unveiled the CEI for Washington State at the Washington State Department of Ecology on July 9.  There’s also a report that you can download if you want more details.


The Economist on June 7th ran an article in their print edition on recycling -- The Truth About Recycling -- that came to the opposite conclusion from Dubner.  The Economist is not known for being a liberal rag so that’s another good source to point to for the opposite conclusion.


Jeffrey Morris, Ph.D.-Economics

Sound Resource Management

2217 60th Lane NW

Olympia, WA 98502-0903



360-319-2391 mobile




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