Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Sort Your Trash Properly.....
or else the garbage vigilantes will get you!

When gubmnts consider recycling programmes, they rarely, if ever, give explicit consideration to the costs imposed on the households, and yet recycling almost always involves time and inconvenience for households. Some programmes in Japan are so complex, they come with a 27-page manual on sorting the different types of garbage into different bags, and then labeling the bags appropriately. [thanks to Brian Ferguson for the link; $ required for more than the abstract].

To Americans [and Canadians!] struggling with sorting trash into a few categories, Japan may provide a foretaste of daily life to come. In a national drive to reduce waste and increase recycling, neighborhoods, office buildings, towns and megalopolises are raising the number of trash categories - sometimes to dizzying heights.

Indeed, Yokohama, with 3.5 million people, appears slack compared with Kamikatsu, a town of 2,200 in the mountains of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands. Not content with the 34 trash categories it defined four years ago as part of a major push to reduce waste, Kamikatsu has gradually raised the number to 44.
Understandably, not all households comply with the garbage regulations. But monitoring behaviour and enforcing the regulations is costly; most of the work has fallen to volunteer garbage vigilantes.

In towns and villages where everybody knows one another, not sorting may be unthinkable. In cities, though, not everybody complies, and perhaps more than any other act, sorting out the trash properly is regarded as proof that one is a grown-up, responsible citizen. ...

In Yokohama, after a few neighborhoods started sorting last year, some residents stopped throwing away their trash at home. Garbage bins at parks and convenience stores began filling up mysteriously with unsorted trash.

"So we stopped putting garbage bins in the parks," said Masaki Fujihira, who oversees the promotion of trash sorting at Yokohama City's family garbage division.

Enter the garbage guardians, the army of hawk-eyed volunteers across Japan who comb offending bags for, say, a telltale gas bill, then nudge the owner onto the right path.

In one instance, a young couple consistently and persistently mis-sorted their garbage, and the vigilantes had them evicted from their apartment! That's one way to force people to internalize an externality.

In macroeconomics, is this what is meant by "moral suasion"?

Update: Brian Ferguson has much more on this at A Canadian Econoview.
Who Links Here