As a reaction to a looming waste crisis, a number of European countries have introduced recycling policies. This paper offers an examination of the recycling policies of Germany, France, Austria, the UK and the European Union. It suggests that they are all economically inefficient because of their use of arbitrary recycling or recovery targets which do not take account of the costs and benefits of recycling, but promote recycling on the assumption that recycling by definition is beneficial. However, the paper also suggests that some of these policies, such as those of France and Britain, are less inefficient in allowing some flexibility in how the recovery targets are reached, than for instance the very rigid German Packaging Ordinance, which prescribes recycling rates for individual material types allowing only reuse and material recycling. Finally, it is proposed that a recycling policy alone cannot solve the waste crisis, and that the focus on recycling may be diverting attention from real solutions to the problem at hand, such as the introduction of a price mechanism for waste disposal.
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