Those doing their best to tread lightly on the earth are supposed to reduce, reuse and only then recycle.
However, recycling gets the most publicity and generally makes people feel they’re doing something for the environment.
But how good is that something?
Not as good as many think.
I thought this was a fun little finding. And it leads to the conclusion that we’ll have to stop people recycling things. In order to save those precious natural resources. Via Mike Munger comes this:
Abstract: In this study, we propose that the ability to recycle may lead to increased resource usage compared to when a recycling option is not available. Supporting this hypothesis, our first experiment shows that consumers used more paper while evaluating a pair of scissors when the option to recycle was provided (vs. not provided). In a follow-up field experiment, we find that the per person restroom paper hand towel usage increased after the introduction of a recycling bin compared to when a recycling option was not available.
Essentially, the finding is that Jevon’s Paradox works in reverse as well. Jevon’s is the idea that making more efficient use of a resource doesn’t necessarily mean using less of that resource. . .
. . . When people think that paper towels will not be recycled they use x amount of them. When they think they will be they use x + y amount of them. Recycling thus increases the usage of paper towels. Now, we might argue that as the paper towels are indeed recycled then of course resource usage declines. But this isn’t actually so: recycling paper quite famously causes more resource use than cutting down (and of course planting) a few more trees. . .
.So, an interesting thought for the lead up to the new year. Save the planet’s precious resources by recycling less. For Jevon’s Paradox does indeed reverse.
This suggests we’d better get back to the old fashioned practices of my parents’ generation for whom reducing and reusing was second nature because recycling might be doing more harm than good.