Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Landfills bear future treasures

Landfills bear future treasures

(My Clovis News Journal column for March 23, 2012. I figured I upset the "right" last week, so this week it was the "left's" turn.)

I picked up a magazine the other day and suddenly a flurry of those familiar and annoying advertising cards fluttered to the floor. As I was picking them up to toss them in the trash, I noticed one said something to the effect that I should read it on my way to the recycling bin. How optimistic. I confess: I rarely recycle.

When recycling becomes viable, in other words when the economics of recycling make sense, no one will have to make laws ordering people to do it. It will happen spontaneously. That's why a lot of people recycle aluminum cans without being forced to do so. Yet, aluminum is only marginally recyclable; recycling cans is just about a break-even proposition. The effort that goes into collecting the cans, compared to the money you get when you cash them in, is only worth it to a minority of people. The payoff just isn't great enough yet.

But I have good news. There's no reason to feel guilty if you are one of us whose time is better spent on things other than sorting your trash. Sending things you no longer want to the landfill is not being wasteful at all. In fact, you are helping to amass this future wealth in one easily accessible location. It's like you are burying treasure. Want to ensure that your descendants, somewhere down the line, are rich? Buy up old landfills. When the recycling technology advances to the point where recycling makes economic sense, those places will be mined for the abundant resources they contain just below the surface.

You're welcome.

The only possible flaw in that plan is The State. It is increasingly likely that government will declare old landfills to be a dangerous hazard and take ownership of them all, "for our own good" of course, and to keep the vast riches therein for itself. Unfortunately, you can say the same about any investment for the future. It has even happened in the past with gold.

Maybe the safer bet is to work to find ways to make recycling profitable. Develop recycling technology and design the methods and machines that will be used to mine to old landfills and collect, sort, and process the next generation of raw materials. In that way, no matter who owns the landfills when that happens, you'll win.


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