Fwd: Is more recycling the answer?

Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:13:05 -0500

Forwarded message:
From: Jim.Poll@aeat.co.uk (Jim Poll)
Sender: owner-recycle@envirolink.org
Reply-to: recycle@envirolink.org
To: recycle@envirolink.org
Date: 96-10-30 04:15:12 EST

Now that the hysteria amongst recyclers over the New York Times
article has subsided, perhaps it is time for some discussion of a
number of issues about recycling, and on whether doing more recycling
is the best solution to waste management problems.

Recycling should be justifiable on environmental and economic grounds.
The transport of recyclables will have an environmental impact, and if
this adds significantly to road congestion, is the overall dis-benefit
comparable to any benefit from recycling? Is it sensible to subsidise
the cost of long distance transport of glass to a recycling facility,
as happens in parts of Canada? Regarding the cost of recycling, can
anyone provide an example of a recycling scheme that achieves the
recycling rate target set for New York (or any other large city) at no
cost to the residents and local commerce and industry, ie the cost is
completely covered by savings in disposal fees and income from sale of
recyclables? In addition, although numerous questionnaire surveys
show that most people think recycling is a good idea, have any surveys
been conducted to determine how much people would be willing to pay
for a recycling scheme?

In the waste management heirarchy, reduce/reuse comes before
recycling. Consequently, why do some states spend large amounts of
money on supporting their recycling programs, but only tiny amounts
(compared to their spending on recycling programs) on their waste
reduction/reuse programs? Has any work been done on whether some
consumers have changed their buying patterns to buy products in
packaging which they can recycle, even if this means that they create
more waste?

Recycling creates jobs, but if high waste disposal costs due to the
need for high tipping fees in order to generate the funds required to
support recycling programs causes companies to close, is the overall
result a net loss of jobs?

Recycling programs can be introduced to increase landfill life.
However, as even recycling processes create waste, there will always
be a need for landfill. Consequently, are recycling programs being
introduced to delay the need to make (unpopular) decisions about where
a new landfill site will be located?

It may also be an interesting exercise to work out the cost, in time
and resources (for example amount of paper used), of introducing all
the recycling related legislation. Could that time and resources have
been better used in introducing legislation which could be of much
greater benefit to the environment or people? Is it sensible to incur
possibly significant costs in bringing and defending court cases about
recycling issues, for example cases about whether a certain material
should or should not be included in a recycling rate calculation?

Perhaps the solution for New York is a sensible target for reducing
the amount of waste requiring disposal through a combination of a
waste reduction program (Note - by waste reduction I mean reducing the
amount of waste produced, not reducing the amount of waste for
disposal by recycling) and limited (justifiable) recycling. This
might be a lower cost solution than implementing a large scale
recycling program, and would still reduce the amount of waste for

It is unlikely that there will be simple answers to these questions.
However, they may form the basis for a more useful contribution to
discussions on future waste management strategy than an approach based
purely on trying to recycle as much as possible.

Jim Poll