Supply and demand are much like natural laws, and a balance must be struck when we tinker with them.
Government procurement policies can be used to dramatically boost recycling. For example, the Clinton administration issued an Executive Order in 1993 requiring that all government-purchased paper contain 20 percent or more post-consumer waste by 1995 (increasing to 25 percent by 2000). Since the U.S. government is the world’s largest paper buyer, this created a strong incentive for paper manufacturers to incorporate wastepaper in their manufacturing process.
I’ve been saying this for years. If the only barrier to lowering price is that there is no demand for the product, it seems silly that governments will create the supply through mandating recycling without similarly creating the demand by becoming the first and largest consumer of those goods.
The most pervasive policy initiative to dematerialize the economy is the proposed tax on the burning of fossil fuels, a tax that would reflect the full cost to society of mining coal and pumping oil, of the air pollution associated with their use, and of climate disruption. A carbon tax will lead to a more realistic energy price, one that will permeate the energy-intensive materials economy and reduce materials use.
I have to draw the line here, however. Taxing of the most common pollutants will only lead to resistance to the environmental movement at best, and its defeat at worst. Humans are convenience-driven and will fight tooth and nail for the right to spew filth. However, I’m fully in support of dropping any government funding and support for these industries. They are mature businesses that should be able to succeed or fail on their own merits, and the good of the country does not depend on taxpayers supporting their efforts. If they can’t hack it we’ll find a better way all the more quickly.