I've always kinda liked this old article, entitled "Recycling is Garbage" from the NYTIMES on recycling. There's plenty to dispute in such cocktail-napkin calculations of such important stuff, but it hits it head-on (apply directly to the forehead): Recycling is no free lunch. In fact taking into account land prices, alternative uses of resources, and energy burned in recycling, it is usually more costly (even in environmental terms) to recycle than it is to pitch things like glass and plastic. Paper and aluminum usually do better in terms of cost-effectivness and energy use. In fact, given the higher energy use and carbon footprint of recycling we might be shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot.
But, in a long-run sense, maybe doing all that recycling earlier is beginning to pay off. Technologies for actually doing the job are improving and the NYTIMES now touts: "In Economic Terms, Recycling Almost Pays" (keyword: almost). Anyway, it teaches us to: 1. be sceptical of the "free lunch", and; 2. think dynamically and long-run, not short run. (Similar arguments can be made for ethanol, by the way: Initially we were burning more energy to make ethanol than we were getting out of it, now we've tipped that, and it's beginning to pay for itself. However, in the case of ethanol, who are we really kidding to think that it is a best long-run solution?)