A letter in the Wichita Eagle by a Mr. Steve Otto of Wichita (March 16, 2009) makes a few claims that require critical examination.
The letter claims that “the rest of the nation is staying away from coal-burning plants.” Actual figures present a different story.
In the document Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants from the National Energy Technology Laboratory, we see there are 28 coal plants under construction, 7 near construction, and 13 that have been permitted. That’s a total of 48 plants. Additionally, 47 plants have been announced.
Otto also laments Wichita’s low participation in recycling, and refers to a study in Wichita comes in last. Ranking last in this regard, however, would be something to be ashamed of if it was actually bad to not recycle.
The price system tells us all we need to know about the relative merits of recycling. In some cases the price system tells us that recycling is a beneficial use of resources. About 75% of automobiles are recycled, and used cardboard is often recycled in commercial settings. That’s because the price paid for these recycled items is high enough that, in these contexts, recycling can be profitable. That’s the price system at work. It tells us that the best use of an old car is to recycle it, and the same goes for cardboard boxes at the grocery store.
A household setting is different. Households usually have to pay to engage in recycling. The prices that recyclers can get for these recycled goods doesn’t cover the cost of collecting them from households, as evidenced by the fact that in Wichita households must pay someone to pick up recyclables (although this may have recently changed as described in the news story Get paid to recycle. Residents pay a monthly fee, but earn points based on how much they recycle.). That’s the price system at work again. Its sober assessment is that in the context of households, recycling is a waste of resources.
There is also the loss of personal liberty. With forced recycling, people have to give up activities that they value more than recycling to comply with the mandate. Additionally, we have to pay recycling fees or additional taxes to cover the costs of money-losing recycling efforts.
So I’ll have to disagree with Otto that Wichita ranking last on this last is a bad thing.