VHS: toxic in form if not content.
I was going through some things in the garage the other day, and I came across my old VHS collection. I tell you what, Mr. Hipster, there were some serious gems in there. I have a pristine copy of Highlander II: The Quickening, which holds the dubious honor of being one of the worst movies of all time, at least according to Rotten Tomatoes. Every badass action movie of the 1980s is there. I’ve got comedy, drama, dramedy, you name it! However, with your encouragement, I shall bid farewell to this obsolete media because I could stream it if I wanted to, and I don’t have a VCR. I write because you left out an important step in getting rid of VHS tapes. You can’t just throw them in the trash or blue recycling can! VHS cassettes are totally filled with all kinds of noxious poisons. If you throw them in the trash, they go in the landfill, and the next thing you know our groundwater is filled with heavy metals. Most people probably don’t even think of VHS tape as potentially serious e-waste, maybe because it’s not on the literature the City distributes every year about what to put in what bin or no bin, but there you have it. It’s all poison. The problem is, recycling VHS is a huge pain in the butt, and most places actually charge you for it. I think there is a place here in town that does it for $0.50/lb. Anyways, I guess I didn’t really have a question (sorry) just a shout-out for everyone not to throw VHS tapes in the trash.
—Seth, University Heights
This goes to show you how badly we need more hipsters in the world. Most people’s eyes will glaze over as soon as they think about paying to throw away trash, and they will rationalize sneaking the VHS tapes into the regular trash, probably disguised inside old Amazon boxes, because they’ll be long dead by the time any poison leaks out of the tape, and it’s just a drop in the ocean, anyways. Economists call problems like toxic trash a “negative externality.” It’s an “externality” because someone else suffers the consequences, and it’s “negative” because it’s poisoning people, which is pretty hard to see as positive.
Enter the hipsters, who either find a cheeky use for what other people consider trash, which is very cool; or abuse the power of social conditioning to convince people it’s totally worth it to pay money for recycling toxic waste, because being hip to the exigencies of humanity’s trash problem is super cool. In either case, whether it’s thrift shop culture adding value to clothes people might otherwise throw away, or giving people an economically viable reason to conscientiously recycle (i.e. every pound of VHS recycling paid for buys at least $0.51 of feeling superior to people who sneak poison into the trash), it should blow your mind that we can create an entire microeconomic framework for human decision-making based purely on the perceived value of coolness in modern society.
Think of it this way: the government has long made it illegal to throw poison in the garbage, yet people do it anyway because they are cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap. On the other hand, people will pay money for other people’s trash purely because it’s cool. That’s right — coolness is more important than the rule of law. Damn The Man.