Curbside Recycling: A Costly Mistake

Recycling companies are facing hard times. Partly that’s because in 2017 China started closing its doors to waste. It doesn’t accept mixed paper or most plastic or electronic waste.

Although some recycling (such as electronic waste) has been relocated to South Asia, the dwindling market for recycled material has sent prices downward, making it difficult for the entire industry. 

But the biggest problems face companies—and communities—that pick up and sort household waste. Approximately 60 curbside programs were canceled in 2017, “with even more drop-off site closures and material limitations,” says Waste Dive, a newsletter about the waste industry. (The newsletter does note that some dropped programs have come back.)   

Material that is supposed to be recycled is ending up in landfills, an Atlantic article said earlier this year. Companies are debating how to cope with the shrinking market. A debate over the “single-stream” versus dual-stream (requiring homeowners to separate recyclables) continues.  Continue reading “Curbside Recycling: A Costly Mistake”

Rescuing the Wild Horses on Public Lands

Horses are starving on public grasslands. Here is one possible way to rescue them.


Wild horses and burros range throughout the public grasslands of the United States. With few predators, they face starvation or dehydration, as about 90,000 animals attempt to live on dry lands that can sustain fewer than a third of that.

PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center, has developed a possible solution, one that has now been adopted by the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees those lands. It is an incentive-based plan that pays individuals to adopt horses.

From PERC:

For several years PERC has researched this issue, trying to find a market-based solution that limits the burden imposed on taxpayers and gets horses out of holding facilities and into real homes. In 2017 we came up with the incentive payment program. Now, the BLM will pay an individual $1000 to adopt a horse or burro. The new program will pay qualified adopters $1,000 to help cover the expenses associated with caring for horses and burros.


See PERC’s 5-minute video.

Let Environmentalists Bid

A guest post by Shawn Regan*.

When it comes to environmental politics, conflict is the norm. Environmentalists have a reputation for being more likely to try to regulate, legislate, or litigate than to bargain with competing users or to simply pay to protect the land and resources they value. Why don’t environmentalists pay to protect what they value? One reason is that they often can’t. Many of the laws and institutions that govern the use of natural resources have the practical effect of prohibiting environmentalists from holding rights to natural resources—thus forcing them to pursue other tactics to achieve their ends.

This is especially true in the American West, where federal and state agencies control much of the land and natural resources. In these cases, environmentalists are more likely to “raid” instead of trade. I explore these issues in a new essay in Reason (based in part on a more-detailed paper that I co-authored with Arizona State University economist Bryan Leonard in the Natural Resources Journal): Technically, any U.S. citizen can bid for and hold leases for energy, grazing, or timber resources on public lands. But legal requirements often preclude environmentalists from participating in such markets. Federal and state rules typically require leaseholders to harvest, extract, or otherwise develop the resources, effectively shutting those who want to conserve resources out of the bidding process. In other words, to acquire rights to natural resources in the West, rights holders must use the resource.

This is an obvious barrier to many would-be environmentalist bidders who may want to acquire such rights for non-use conservation purposes. But, as my essay describes, some environmental activists still attempt to bid. The article includes several case studies and interviews with environmental activists who have tried to pay to protect what they value—only to encounter myriad legal barriers that either prevent them from doing so or significantly raise the costs of such transactions.

One interesting example is the case of environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams. In 2016, she and her husband Brooke attended a protest of an oil and gas lease auction in Utah administered by the Bureau of Land Management. When they learned that some of parcels of public land that were put up for sale didn’t receive any bids, they decided to bid themselves,  with the intention of preserving the land instead of developing it. “So we signed up and bought them,” Brooke says. “We paid with our debit card.” All it took was $1.50 an acre (plus an $820 processing fee) to secure the drilling rights to two leases comprising 1,120 acres near Arches National Park. The couple even created an “energy company,” Tempest Exploration Co. LLC, and began paying the annual rental fees associated with the lease. “We have every intention of complying with the law, even as we challenge it,” Tempest Williams later wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “We will pay the annual rent for the duration of the 10-year lease and keep whatever oil and gas lies beneath these lands in the ground.” It didn’t work. The BLM canceled the leases, alleging that Tempest Williams violated the “diligent development requirement” of the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act, which requires lessees to “exercise reasonable diligence in developing and producing” their energy resources.

In an October 2016 letter, the BLM told Tempest Williams that “since you have stated publicly that you intend to keep the oil and gas resources in the ground,” referring to her comments in the Times, “the lease offers are hereby rejected.” Others have experienced similar challenges. Jon Marvel, founder of the anti-livestock group Western Watersheds Project, made a name for himself by becoming the high bidder on several state grazing leases in Idaho. Even though the state has a mandate to maximize revenues from such lands, Marvel was often denied the leases because he did not intend to graze livestock.

And WildEarth Guardians, a group known for its litigation-prone approach, has recently pursued voluntary buyouts of ranchers’ grazing permits—that is, if federal agencies don’t prevent them from doing so. (There is currently no formal legal mechanism that enables environmentalists to acquire or retire federal grazing permits, so the group is only able to negotiate them on a tenuous ad hoc basis). Why shouldn’t environmentalists be able to spend their money on the things they value, just like anyone else?

This article discusses several reasons why reforms to enable conservation-oriented bidding have been so elusive. Some of the opposition is based on the practical difficulties associated with allowing “non-use” of natural resources when “use” is considered an important form of management. Some of the opposition, however, is also rooted in efforts by industry groups to limit competition. And in many cases, environmentalists may simply find it easier to “raid” through political or legal means than to pay the market value of what they want to protect.

In some areas, however, environmental market solutions are beginning to emerge. Many environmental groups are now calling for federal legislation that would enable voluntary buyouts of federal grazing permits. And many western states now allow water rights to be acquired for non-use purposes, such as for instream flows to conserve fish and wildlife habitat.

Last month Audubon Society negotiated an agricultural water rights lease in New Mexico for non-use purposes to enhance stream flows on the Chama River—the first lease of its kind in the state. “The lesson,” I conclude in the Reason essay, “is not that energy development, logging, or livestock grazing is bad, or that every effort to stop such activities should prevail. Rather, it’s that environmental values are real and legitimate, and they are best expressed in ways that acknowledge existing property rights, seek an honest bargain, and reflect the opportunity costs of the other forgone values associated with the land.” Environmentalists have proven they are often willing and able to pay to protect the lands and resources they value, which suggests there is one simple way to reduce land-use conflicts in the American West: Let ‘em bid.

*Shawn Regan is a research fellow and the director of publications at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a free-market environmental institute in Bozeman, Montana.

Hunting Restores Wildlife in Mozambique

Trophy hunting brings back animals, big and small, and helps a local community.


A new video by PERC (the Property and Environment Research Center) describes how trophy hunting in Coutada 11, a million-acre area in Mozambique, has brought back its wildlife. Devastated by a civil war that ended in 1992, Mozambique lost most of its wildlife, especially large animals such as lions and leopards As part of the recovery from the war, the Mozambique government began leasing its game reserves to private businesses.

In 1994 Mark Haldane, who runs an African safari business in South Africa and Botswana visited Coutada 11, an area in the Zambesi River delta. “It was absolutely beautiful,” he says in the video. “The problem was they had hardly any animals.”

Using funds from his existing business, Haldane began building up wildlife again. The key was to involve the local community. The company built a clinic and a school and regularly provides meat from hunting. It also hired former poachers as salaried anti-poachers.

The biggest threat to protecting the animals, says Haldane, is proposed laws that would ban the importation of trophy animals such as elephants and lions into the U.S. and other countries, “If you take those species out of the equation many of those operations become unviable,” he says, and other species enter a “downward spiral” The video includes examples of success in African wildlife

  • Mozambique’s increase of buffalo from 1200 in 1994 to 25,000 today
  • Southern white rhinos in South Africa, from 1,000 to 19,000 between 1960 and 2019
  • Elephant numbers in Namibia tripling from 1995 to 2018
  • In Zimbabwe elephant numbers doubling between 1980 and 2019

For an essay about the video see Acton Institute’s website.

Recycling Goes Bust, So Interest Groups Seek Federal Help

$500 million for ‘infrastructure’; $75 million for “education.”


In three recent articles by Waste Dive, an online newspaper that covers the waste-and-recovery industry, this picture emerges:

Recycling is in trouble, thanks in part to China’s decision in 2017 to stop accepting waste from other countries. Residential recycling, which has never made money, is cash-strapped.

What to do? Look for federal funds.

Two major recycling bills have been proposed in the last few weeks, and at a November recycling summit the EPA secretary’ confirmed an interest in federal action.

The new developments:

  • A bill called RECOVER, supported by the much of the waste industry,would provide $500 million in recycling “infrastructure.” If that seems vague, it is. However, it “would allocate $500 million in matching federal funds for states, municipalities, and tribes. That money is meant to improve various aspects of collection and processing infrastructure.”
  • A bill called RECYCLE would focus on education and would only authorize $75 million over three years.  “RECYCLE is less ambitious and seems to be supported by environmental groups as well as industry,” says Dive. It would provide recycling education grants and require the EPA to take steps to increase recycling rates and to reduce contamination of recycling waste streams.
  • Not to be ignored is new recycling policies by the EPA. Says Waste Dive: “Compared to prior years, when the Trump administration proposed dramatically reducing the EPA’s budget and eliminating its recycling program, this about face is notable.”

In an interview with Dive, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler acknowledged that China’s halt in waste imports was a big reason. “‘I think it’s a big priority because it’s a problem that we have to solve. And it’s really going to take some federal attention to solve it,’ he told Waste Dive, going on to mention a need to improve the quality and quantity of recycled feedstock for new products.” Adds Waste Dive: “Compared to prior years, when the Trump administration proposed dramatically reducing the EPA’s budget and eliminating its recycling program, this about face is notable.”