GreenYes Digest V96 #13

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GreenYes Digest Sun, 3 Nov 96 Volume 96 : Issue 13

Today's Topics:
Fwd: Is more recycling the answer?

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Problems you can't solve otherwise to

Date: Sun, 3 Nov 1996 04:55:10 -0500
Subject: Fwd: Is more recycling the answer?

Jim Poll asks why so little attention is directed to reduce/reuse, even
though they are highest in the waste management hierarchy.

I have been fascinated for the past few years by people's responses to source
reduction ideas. Of course, there have been wonderfully creative responses,
often in packaging. For businesses, these seem to be particularly motivated
by saving money and meeting legislative requirements (often European, not
U.S.), although I've talked with a lot of business people who are
environmentally motivated in addition to fiscally.

But I've also seen a lot of resistance in ways that are either social or
structural. In 1990, I started including in some of my speeches discussions
about the need for source reduction. Each time, the audience would go dead
quiet and get very uncomfortable in the ways that people do when you're
talking about skeletons in the family closet. Normally I get a lot of
questions and responses to my speeches, but after these, people avoided me.

There would always be one or two people who would come up to me later,
though, to tell me what was the matter: "If we truly source reduce, we'll
destroy our economy. We have to have a constantly-growing economy to have a
healthy nation. If we have source reduction instead, we'll all end up living
in caves." (Every time, this "living in caves" concept would come up!)

Someone else on this listserve talked about how source reduction will take
longer than recycling because it's a life-style change. The reactions I've
gotten suggest that it goes to the core of our sense of economic security. So
whenever I talk about it, I make sure to emphasize how it can save us money
or provide equal or better quality of life. However, it DOES mean we'd be
producing less -- that's the whole idea.

Another interesting response I've been getting is structural and therefore
something we could change if we come up with good alternatives. I've been
doing buy-recycled workshops that include an hour-long segment on buying with
source reduction goals in mind. Some buyers think it's the best part and
we've had wildly creative brainstorming sessions in response to it. But
others stare as though I'm speaking Urdu and they're not at all interested.

I'm finding that a lot of those in the latter category are in purchasing
departments (often in governments) with budgets that will be cut if they
spend less. Therefore, they're not interested in source reduction ideas that
will reduce purchasing costs. Some of them are not even interested in
recycled products that cost less, for the same reason.

It seems reasonable to me that if they save money on the purchases, they
could put at least some of it towards hiring another person or upgrading
their computer system or funding a special project they've wanted to do. But
apparently it doesn't work that way; those come out of separate budget

This must be a widespread reason for apathy towards source reduction
purchasing (no, that's not an oxymoron) because that kind of
"spend-it-or-you-lose-it" budget approach is common. How do we overcome that
obstacle and create rewards that benefit the department that's making the
effort to create the savings? I know of a hotel example where the cleaning
staff was able to keep their savings and buy themselves new vacuum cleaners.
But this change-of-allocation within a budget apparently isn't always
possible. I think of this purchasing-structure problem as analogous to the
larger tax and GNP (GDP) questions of rewarding waste instead of

How have people dealt with this?

Susan Kinsella


End of GreenYes Digest V96 #13