Consider the problem of polio, a disease that killed tens of thousands and ruined the lives of millions around the world in the 1930s through 1950s. One solution was to try to ease the suffering of polio victims, developing better iron lungs and systems of braces, wheelchairs, and prosthetics to make it possible that they could live some kind of life. This industry was enormous, and highly profitable.

The other solution was to develop a vaccine, the one that Dr. Jonas Salk finally perfected in 1952, and which showed itself to be effective within a decade. By the late 1960s, polio had been reduced sharply in the United States. Now, it is almost unknown here and in most of the rest of the world. Of course, the makers of braces, crutches, and iron lungs took a beating, because no one needed their products anymore. But the total costs to society were dramatically reduced, even accounting for the “loss” to the equipment manufacturers.

When it comes to waste management, we are at the stage of manufacturing braces and iron lungs.

via Recycling Is a Red Herring | Cato Unbound.