I'm listening to a couple of economists talk about recycling. The conversation was humorous and entertaining, and I found two bits of it really interesting:
First, a prediction by Prof. Munger that in 100 years we will see strip-mining of old landfills to recover plastic (which we'll burn to produce energy, since oil will be very expensive by then). I agree; I think old landfills will be a great very-long-term investment, there's all sorts of good stuff in there that is currently too expensive to recover and reuse. But in 100 years, I bet we'll have the technology to efficiently extract all sorts of valuable stuff from old garbage dumps (if the history nuts will let us; maybe they'll all be declared "archeologically valuable" and put off-limits).
Second, insights into the "recycling religion." Some environmentalists put an essentially infinite value on "Virgin Mother Earth." It doesn't matter what the cost is to recycle (of human time, energy, water, ...), in their view it is ALWAYS worth it to recycle rather than "take precious, irreplaceable resources from Mother Earth." Recycling has become Religion, and we're judged by our neighbors if we don't go along with the Holy Rites and put our bright blue and red containers by the curb with our trash.
News flash: paper comes from trees that are grown for that purpose, just like we grow wheat to make bread. Glass comes from sand. Sand comes from rocks. And rocks are being created all the time.