On Friday mornings the trash bins are picked up by waste management, and during the early hours of dawn, the homeless in my town systematically scavenge plastic bottles and aluminum cans from the bins. The most successful hobos are the ones who manage to claim recycle bins. Pushing along their shopping carts, the hobos visit virtually every single bin on the streets. It is a competition for recycling money.
Now normally I approve of recycling and even appreciate the services that hobos provide to society by preventing perfectly recyclable materials from going to the dump, but from an economic perspective, hobos picking from recycle bins are being horribly inefficient. Plastic salvaged from a landfill or from trash destined to be disposed in said landfills is returned to society in the form of valuable resources. Taking plastic from my recycle bin does nothing because it was already going to the recycling center. The cost of waste disposal has already been paid for in the form of garbage trucks making their rounds.
The ultimate economic consequence of this behavior is that society would have to pay a few a extra hot dogs and cheeseburgers for its recycling services. Is it a high cost? Probably not, but it’s still inefficient nonetheless.