Yes, they\’re lying again

Tonight, Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, said the ban would have both financial and environmental benefits. It would cut greenhouse gas emissions from landfill sites and from manufacturing new products such as cans and bottles from virgin materials.

It would also save councils money on the landfill tax charged for every tonne of waste, and allow them to make money from selling recycling materials. As existing landfill sites fill up, there is also a looming problem of finding new locations.

And the lie is so transparent. They are still not including in their cost estimates the time it takes households to sort the rubbish so that it can be recycled. They are thus ignoring the major cost of such schemes.

And, yes, I know I\’ve been banging on about this for years. However, I\’ve now some support from two Nobel Laureates to underpin my basic contention. That time spent doing such things is a cost and a cost which has to be included in our cost benefit analysis.

Mssrs. Stiglitz and Sen did a report for M. Sarkozy on alternatives to GDP as a measurement of how well we\’re doing. In it they make the clear and obvious point that household production must be included in any proper measure of wealth and/or income. They also provide us with the metric by which we should value it. The cost of undifferentiated general labour. In our case that\’s almost certainly the minimum wage.

Now, true, they are saying that because we cannot measure the output of such household production we should measure the input: the time spent creating that household production. This isn\’t as odd as it seems, this is what we do with most Government already. We cannot measure the value of a court system so we simply assume that it adds to GDP what it costs us to have a court system. And so on with much/most of government.

But one of the things you\’re not allowed to get away with in economics (as is also the case in other sciences) is to say that we\’ll treat this (in this case, household labour in household production) in one manner over here and then in another manner over there.

If household labour is to be valued at minimum wage then household labour is to be valued at minimum wage.

So if we place a geas upon households that they must labour at a certain task then we must value the labour we are forcing them to put into that task.

And absolutely none of the estimations of the costs and benefits of recycling include the value of this labour. Therefore they are all lying through their teeth to us, the arrogant, spiteful, bastards.

Therefore we get to hang them all.

33 comments on “Yes, they\’re lying again

  1. Tim,

    I honestly think the time I spend sorting my recycling (and, where I live they don’t take plastic so I have to take it to a plastic bank myself) counts for zero. I mean, a rounding error away from it. I fit it in to my days with zero opportunity cost.

    If you want a technical analogy, this is because my cost function (or production function) has slack in it, I am not on the efficiency frontier.

    I think you really over egg this. I don’t mean the point you’re mistaken, I just think it’s not quantitatively important.

    More important, to my mind, is whether the effort of recycling actually saves resources (materials, energy)

    Tim adds: “If you want a technical analogy, this is because my cost function (or production function) has slack in it, I am not on the efficiency frontier. ”

    If this were true in aggregate then there would be no talk of changing laws, fining people, rewarding them and all the rest. But we do talk of all of those things: therefore it is not true of the population in aggregate.

  2. “the ban would have both financial and environmental benefits”

    If it had financial benefits, it wouldn’t be necessary; if we would be better off as a result of the ban, we would voluntarily self-impose it.

  3. I had an argument about this with some lefty a while back. He was insisting the time to separate the rubbish was negligible, indeed it wasn’t actually separating but “not combining”. He disappeared from the discussion when I asked him in which bin would you put half a jar of mouldy jam.

  4. “…there is also a looming problem of finding new locations”

    …that would be allowed under the draconian EU legislation that has deliberately made it near impossible to designate new sites…

    Don’t you just love the way this 2nd bit is always elided!

  5. “I honestly think the time I spend sorting my recycling (and, where I live they don’t take plastic so I have to take it to a plastic bank myself) counts for zero.”

    Your prerogative Luis, but I don’t think you have any right to insist that anybody else values THEIR time at zero. Personally I don’t value ANY of my time at zero. There is always something I would rather be doing than sorting rubbish.

  6. “Tim,

    I honestly think the time I spend sorting my recycling (and, where I live they don’t take plastic so I have to take it to a plastic bank myself) counts for zero.”

    Thanks for that little nugget of info.

    What ChrisM says…

  7. Diogenes, do you pay someone to sort your washing?

    You see, I pay my local council to collect my rubbish. I also pay them to keep the roads clear, to keep the pavements walkable in all weathers, to educate the children, etc. etc. All of which they have signally failed to do over the past few winters.

    I did not, in my contract with them, employ them to nag me about five-a-day or not smoking, nor did I mandate them to engage in a futile effort to change the f’ing climate of the world, nor to reach out to various minorities in my neighborhood.

    So if you employ someone to do your laundry and not only do they insist you sort your own washing, but then fail to do the job properly you might feel like counting the cost to you and perhaps complaining about it.

  8. Chris and Julia Ms

    Where did you get the idea that I “insist that anybody else values THEIR time at zero”?

    I said it was close to zero for me. I suspect that a good proportion of the 60m citizens in this country find the imposition similarly negligible, I’m sure that some individuals, like yourselves, find putting food waste into one bin and glass/metal into another etc., a significant burden. Clearly not a minute is wasted in your lives, and the heavy costs recycling imposes upon you must be taken into account. I am arguing that when everything is taken into account, across all manner of individuals, including those like you and those like me, the time-cost of recycling isn’t quantitatively important.

    Tim, I just don’t follow your comment at all. I don’t see the connection between laws and fines, and slack in production functions. Also, if individual production functions are slack, there is also slack at the aggregate level … it doesn’t disappear with aggregation.

  9. They also provide us with the metric by which we should value it. The cost of undifferentiated general labour. In our case that’s almost certainly the minimum wage.

    Wrong. The task of sorting rubbish may only be worthy of paying someone minimum wage, but we are forcing people who earn far more than minimum wage to do it. I would cost it as MIN(A,B), where:
    * A = hourly salary cost of employing that householder.
    * B = actual hourly cost for the householder to employ someone on minimum wage to come into their home on a regular basis and sort their rubbish. This would include employer’s NI and pension contributions, paid holidays, admin overhead etc.

  10. This is of course easily solved, offer two collections – a sorted and unsorted one – and offer whatever discount one can for the former.

    [Incidentally it’s very obvious that people value time spent recycling differently than time at ‘work’, or at least that’s the conclusion you get from reading the study Tim usually links to]

  11. In many homes, the sorting and differentiation of the various types of rubbish amounts to a loss of amenity also. What I mean by this is the extra space you have to set aside for storing say newspapers, tins, plastic bottles, glass, tetrapacks, compostible waste, garden waste, and however many wheelie bins and boxes the council have issued you with.

    Looking at some of my old haunts on Google Street View, I have seen houses with four large plastic bins on the driveway. In our house, the bins and boxes fill half the garage, which means I can’t get the car in there anymore. But the alternative is to make the front of my house into an eyesore.

  12. Luis, I think you are confusing small cost with no cost. Just because you find the few minutes a day small beer; multiplied over the population it isn’t. 10 p a week (say) is not very much either; multiply it over the population over a year and you have 1/2 billion quid.

    Tim adds: That’s how the costs add up. 15 minutes a week per household? Pah! A mere bagatelle! Err, 52 weeks a year, 24 million households….300 million hours a year. Or 150,000 people full time. Bigger than the man hours that goes into the entire British Army.

  13. “Where did you get the idea that I “insist that anybody else values THEIR time at zero”?”

    I got the idea from this.

    ” I am arguing that when everything is taken into account, across all manner of individuals, including those like you and those like me, the time-cost of recycling isn’t quantitatively important.”

  14. Kevin – if you are worried about being fined because you are so busy that you don’t have enough spare time to sort your rubbish, then you are at liberty to pay somepone the amount you woulod be fined to do the sorting for you.

  15. That’s missing the point diogenes; he’s already paid the “fine” in the form of taxes. Fining him is therefore charging him twice for the same service.

  16. Tim,

    this is where the silliness becomes evident. Do you think that if we ended recycling, we’d be able to increase real output (including leisure) in similar order to as if we reallocated all the labour expended in the army?

    If people can (mostly) fit a few extra minutes sorting their rubbish into their lives without sacrificing anything else, you don’t add up the cost like that. In the extreme case, the opportunity cost is zero. I’m not arguing for an extreme case, just that the true cost is way below your sum total. I’m sure some people do miss valuable moments of leisure time because of having to recycle, but as I said already, I’m sure most people’s days include enough wasted time, slack, scope for increasing ‘efficiency’ (i.e. putting food waste into a special bin whilst telling your wife about your day at work, or whatever) to mean the real cost is negligible. This doesn’t mean you “value your time at zero” it just means there’s some wiggle room; that’s what slackness means.

    Now, obviously this is a slipperly slope, it only works for small perturbations, and they can add up etc.

    (ChrisM, am I imagining things, or did you just try to explain saying insist others value their time at zero by citing a passage in which I explicitly refer to people not like me, i.e. with different valuations?).

  17. Look at it from the opposite end of the service, if the council received all the rubbish in combined form and had to separate it how much would it cost them?

    Whatever that number is (admit it might be hugely different one way or another to how much it costs if householders do it) it is some evidence that there is a cost to this venture.

    In a similar vein could someone explain to the ladies in my office who think I should wash my own dishes “because it only takes a minute” that it is far more beneficial to the company that the cleaner who earns half as much as I and adds little value is the correct person to clean dishes. :o)

  18. “I’m sure most people’s days include enough wasted time, slack, scope for increasing ‘efficiency’ ”

    Well, if you take 5 minutes a day out of that slack, then that is 5 minutes slack that you can’t use elsewhere. No matter how you slice it, you can’t claim that is isn’t a cost. It is a cost, even to you. The fact that the cost is so small that you don’t bother to calculate it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The time I spend sorting, I would rather spend having a cuppa, or commenting on a blog article, or feeding the cat, or having a cigarette. I have a huge variety of things I would rather do with a spare 5 mins than sorting rubbish, as would most people. I suspect if someone gave you as a gift a machine with zero ecological impact that sorted your rubbish for you, you would not spend every day keeping it company while it did it because you had nothing better to do.

    “(ChrisM, am I imagining things, or did you just try to explain saying insist others value their time at zero by citing a passage in which I explicitly refer to people not like me, i.e. with different valuations?).”

    Granted, you are not insisting that I value my time at zero, you are insisting that my time is valued at zero, because some other people claim that they value their own time at zero. I stand corrected.

  19. so all of you value your leisure time so highly that you cannot envisage spend a moment or two sorting your waste without feeling hard-done-by!

    Really!

    It’s not so hard to do it at source as you throw it away. It takes a few seconds to chuck things into one big bin – from which it might take an hour for someone down the line to sort out the chaos you hae intentionally created and which you ought to pay for.

    I takes no longer to chuck things into 4/5/6/7 smaller bins and thus add t0 the value add of the society. Admittedly, you would have to organise yourselves and not expect people to do work for you.

  20. Diogenes, you still don’t seem to understand my position.

    Governments at all levels are not elected to impose burdens on us, the people who pay their wages. They are elected to provide services to the people of the country.

    Among the services the local government is elected to perform is rubish collection. That they have now decided, without any attempt to canvas my views on the matter, to impose an expensive and time consuming burden on me is simply not acceptable.

    In addition to using my money to provide the various bins, boxes, vehicles and personnel that they need in order to impose this extra burden, they have also chosen to employ whole departments to do things that are not their business and which they are in no position to accomplish. To add insult to injury, they then fail at their primary tasks, (including rubbish collection), when there is a hint of inclement weather.

    Now if you wish to sort your rubbish into separate piles and have it collected seperately, then feel free to buy the necessary bins etc, and employ a collection agency to gather all your trash, but don’t impose your fetish on me, and don’t charge me for the privilege.

  21. “Admittedly, you would have to organise yourselves and not expect people to do work for you.”

    Yes, people are strange like that; when they pay someone to do work for them, they expect that work to be done.

  22. It’s not so hard to do it at source as you throw it away. It takes a few seconds to chuck things into one big bin…

    So where do you put the glass jar half filled with mouldy jam? Where does the cardboard box filled with polystyrene, paper, and plastic which your new computer came in go?

    Anyone can see that it is as quick to throw a piece of paper in a paper bin as it is to throw it in one combined bin. But not all rubbish is conveniently separated before it needs to go in the bin. If I have to spend 5 minutes cleaning the mouldy jam out of the jar and putting the jam in the organic waste bin and the jar in the glass bin, that is an effort which is measurable. Try getting a teenage kid to do it willingly if you don’t believe me.

    Tim is right: if this is so easy and takes no effort, there would be no need to fine people for not doing it.

  23. ChrisM, no, I am not insisted your time is valued at zero, merely that the quantitative importance of your non-zero valued time is, in context, small.

  24. Well Luis, the quantitative importance of my doing recycling is small too.

    “small” is subjective. 5 pound a week (say) is not subjective. Whether you or I think the figures involves are small or large is a matter of opinion. What is not a matter of opinion is that in doing a cost benefit analysis, one has to add up all the costs. This is clearly NOT done in the case of recycling.

    The problem here seems to be one of arithmetic, you do not seem able to grasp that when a small value is multiplied by a large number, the resulting value can be significant.

  25. “if the council received all the rubbish in combined form and had to separate it how much would it cost them?”

    I really don’t care; it’s their decision to separate it (I know they have “targets” and there’s EuroLegislation, but ultimately, it’s a decision made by political types), so they should eat the cost. Personally, I would just dump it in a big hole in the ground because there’s no shortage of them.

    I know a guy who used to work for a waste management company. They would buy a piece of land and dig a hole in it. They would sell the stuff that came out of the hole, sell the space in hole for dumping stuff, then when the hole was full, they would sell the land again. Of course, that was in sensible times, before “landfill tax”, and other EuroBollocks.

  26. Of course, the elephant in the room is never mentioned.

    We are not short of landfill space, even in England. What we are short of, is permission from our overlords in Brussels to actually use our own land for the purpose we want – that is, in this case, landfill.

    Also I refute this cost thing – again! – thusly:

    1. It takes no longer to throw the item in one bin than in another. Sorting? Who needs to do that? Only if you put all your rubbish in one big heap and THEN go back and sort it. Who does that?

    2. Nobody pays me for my spare time. So it doesn’t actually cost me anything except hassle, and rage against the EU.

  27. “1. It takes no longer to throw the item in one bin than in another. Sorting? Who needs to do that? Only if you put all your rubbish in one big heap and THEN go back and sort it. Who does that?”

    This has already ben adequately refuted by Tim Newman and Monty; Throwing composite rubbish that needs disecting before binning clearly IS going to take longer. Rinsing tin cans of food residue before puttin in the recycling takes time too.

    ” Nobody pays me for my spare time. So it doesn’t actually cost me anything except hassle, and rage against the EU.”

    Oh, so time spent doing something you don’t want to do is not a cost! Hassle is not a cost! (These are rhetorical exclamation points, hassle and time are both costs).

  28. Another thing we tend to lose sight of is the tendency for local authorities to restrict rubbish collection to once weekly, which means that the bin with the dirty nappies, fishbones, mouldy jam, and peelings has to spend two weeks going critical before it gets emptied. This encourages flies and rats.
    We have waste disposal as a compulsory service, for which we must all pay, in the interests of public health. Vermin and disease do not respect property boundaries, so we all need eachother’s bins to be emptied regularly, not just our own. With summertime on the way, I will be buying insecticide to spray inside the bin every day, because I just hate flies.

    Noxious waste should be collected every week, and if they want us to recycle, let them make additional provision for that.

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