Publication Date

October 2006


Municipalities in the United States have for the past two decades initiated two policies to reduce residential solid waste generation by increasing recycling. The first policy, implemented in over 4,000 municipalities in the United States, requires households to pay a fee for each unit of garbage presented at the curb for collection. The second policy, initiated in 8,875 municipalities, subsidizes household recycling efforts by providing free curbside collection of certain recyclable materials. Both initiatives serve as examples of incentive-based environmental policies favored by many economists. But before economists can celebrate this wide-spread adoption of incentive-based environmental policies, further examination reveals that potentially inefficient command and control policies have been more instrumental in promoting recycling than might be commonly known. This article examines the empirical lessons gained from studying twenty years of solid waste policy in the United States and argues for the replacement of several state recycling mandates with a system of state and/or national landfill taxes.


The Journal of Economic Perspectives

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