Municipal recycling programs and benefits

"Municipal recycling programs could provide some kind of direct benefits to local residents".

Local governments may have implemented recycling programs in response to these benefits; if households benefit, the program need not pay for itself”.


Inspired from the lecture of Roel van Raak on 17/11/2014, I have started thinking the influence of municipalities as a regime to recycling. The transitions between the responsible regime and the residents play an important role to the procedure of recycling and therefore to the environmental and economy impacts of a place. Clearly, the rapid growth in municipal recycling programs can be considered one of the more significant environmental policy movements over the past decade.

Thomas C. Kinnaman in his article “Explaining the Growth in Municipal Recycling Programs: the role of market and nonmarket factors”, points out an interesting policy question; ‘The extent to which this recent growth in municipal recycling programs can be attributed to market factors’.According to him, casual evidence supports such a link. First, recycling is most common in the northeast region of the United States where solid waste disposal costs (tipping fees) exceed those in other regions of the country. Second, the growth in recycling has come on the heels of increases in solidwaste transportation costs that began when municipalities started to shift garbage disposal from local town dumps to remote regional landfills. However, the original data employed by this article to estimate the market benefits and costs of operating a municipal recycling program showthat costs to collect and process recyclable material exceed the benefits from selling the collected materials and from taking less garbage to the landfill. Therefore, if recycling is indeed expensive, then nonmarket factors must have also played a role in the past decade’s growth in recycling. One potential nonmarket factor could be a reduction in the external costs of traditional garbage disposal attributable to the extra recycling. Garbage disposal is a messy practice: Landfills emit foul odors and threaten area groundwater supplies, and incineration produces air pollution and toxic ash. But these disposal practices increasingly occur in rural settings at some distance from the municipality. Municipal governments might not worry about these environmental costs if garbage is “exported” to surrounding regions. Since neither market nor environmental factors seem to fully explain the growth in recycling, this paper suggests and tests a third factor. Municipal recycling programs, like other municipal services such as parks and recreational facilities, could provide some kind of direct benefits to local residents. Local governments may have implemented recycling programs in response to these benefits; if households benefit, the program need not pay for itself. Results from a contingent valuation survey of local households support this claim.

Recall that the first contribution of this article is to estimate the market benefits and costs of municipal recycling programs. If market benefits exceed costs, then the growth in recycling could be attributed to such factors. But reliable benefit-cost data are difficult to obtain by either of two available strategies. The first strategy takes advantage of the fact that some state government recycling offices keep cost records for all of their state’s recycling programs to award municipalities grants to reimburse their recycling expenses.  Each of these records could be combined to form a cross-sectional data set of recycling costs. But municipalities differ over procedures used to budget recycling expenses. Some local governments include the capitalized cost of unused landfill space, whereas others do not. Some local governments include the cost of garbage collection when the same truck collects garbage and recycling; others do not. A few include the opportunity cost to employ municipal resources to store recyclable materials, but most do not. A second and perhaps more accurate method of obtaining benefit-cost data is to collect it directly from individual communities. This case study approach has been employed in studies done by trade associations within the solid waste industry.

 Could recycling ever pay for itself? Perhaps, but the value of at least one of the variables used in the analysis above would need to change for the costs of municipal recycling to equal zero. For example, benefits would increase if the tipping fee or the prices paid for recycled materials were to increase. Costs of collecting, processing, storing, and transporting recyclable material might also fall.

Most municipalities dispose garbage in regional landfills located several miles away, and the reduction in air and water pollution occurs in manufacturing regions in other parts of the state or country. In fact, only the environmental costs of municipal recycling services such as extra congestion and truck pollution are local to the community. Individuals far from the municipality enjoy the environmental benefits. Local governments cannot be expected to voluntarily incur local environmental problems to produce such benefits for others.

 But how do residents benefit directly from recycling services? Households may altruistically dislike contributing garbage. These tastes could arise either from some endowed sense of civic duty or to avoid the perception of harming the environment.18 Households endowed with such preferences can be expected to devote scarce resources to recycling even in the absence of a legal or economic incentive. Indeed, Fullerton and Kinnaman (1996) find that 73.3% of households lacking such incentives regularly participate in a recycling program. Because a municipal recycling program simplifies the household’s recycling effort, the household would encourage its government to implement one.


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Niki Nikolaou

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