Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An Expose of Sweeden's "Successful" National Recycling Program

In the debate over government-run Health Care, the question is often asked "What has the government ever run that worked, besides the military?" The first answer is usually "The Post Office" until people realize how often things get lost in the mail. The second answer is often the Sweedish recycling program, which is trumpeted as a profitable enterprise. At least one Swede strongly disagrees. And if this is the model for government-run Health Care, God help us all if it is ever enacted.

The authorities have established trash collection centers in most neighborhoods where you get to throw away your trash. These "centers" offer numerous containers where you can throw away your trash — there is one container dedicated for each and every kind of trash and they are all neatly color-coded to help you find the right one. But this means you better have separated your aluminum from your other metals and your newspapers from your soft and hard papers before you get here. You wouldn't want to throw away dirty milk cartons or unsorted paper, would you?

But it seems people do just that: they cheat if they believe they are better off doing so. So the authorities have responded by making it more difficult to cheat. Their first measure was to redesign all containers so that it is more difficult throwing the "wrong" trash in them. For instance, containers for glass have only small, round holes where you put your bottles, and containers for hard paper and carton materials have only letter-slit shaped holes (you need to flatten all boxes before recycling — that's the law).

Well, that didn't do the trick. People kept on cheating. And the more difficult the authorities made it to cheat, the more difficult it was to get rid of the trash even if you intended to put it in the right place. So people went to these centers and simply put everything next to the containers instead — why bother? The authorities responded by appointing salaried "trash collection center spies" (!) to document who was cheating so that they could be brought to justice. (There have actually been a few court cases where people have been tried for not following recycling laws.)
Are we really ready to face these kinds of central planning issues when we go to our doctors? I'd say no, but I will admit I have friends who would claim they already do in dealing with their health insurance provider.

1 comment:

Sean said...

The postal service actually runs really well, primarily because the government doesn't control it very much. Yes it's a government entity, but it's run more like a business than a government program. In fact the only reason postage prices have gone up over the past few years is because the government was taking too much of the usps profits to make up for the fed's deficit - making the usps run in the red. Also, considering the millions of packages and letters sent daily the amount of lost mail is minimal - in the single digits percentage wise.