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How effective is household recycling?

by reallyeli 1 min read29th Aug 20192 comments


(This is not a question about a top cause area; this question stems mainly from simple curiosity. I thought I would ask it here because I figured EAs might have an answer or would be interested, not because I think an answer is very important to improving the world.)

Like everyone I know (my base culture is American East Coast liberal), I do recycling in my household for metal, paper, cardboard, and glass. I've wondered over the years what the effects of my recycling really are. Recently I came across this piece of criticism by an economist, which contends that, for most things (not aluminum, for instance), recycling is a net harm to the environment:


I found it to be thought-provoking, but not by itself convincing. I'm unable to find other work that assesses the impact of recycling from a utilitarian, counterfactual point of view with fifteen minutes of Googling. (For example, I'm able to find https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/5-recycling-myths-busted-plastic/ but it doesn't seem on the level: it makes points like "recycling creates jobs!" -- jobs are good, but could we spend that money elsewhere and create more jobs?)

Does anyone know of any, or have relevant expertise themselves?

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Rob Wiblin wrote a post about recycling and garbage disposal last month; you might find what you're looking for there or in the references at the bottom.