Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:21:50 -0500

[PART 2 of 3 --sent as <20K segments to avoid encoding protocols of some
--Bill Sheehan]

On June 30, the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story entitled "Recycling
is Garbage." The Environmental Defense Fund's response follows. This
was set up with minimal formatting in order to facilitate email transfers.
Please forward copies to interested parties you may know of, and send us their
email addresses. If you would like a copy as a Word 6.0 document, please
"members@edf.org" or call EDF Public Information at (202) 387-3500. This
and additional information on recycling is also available on EDF's Web site: w

Thank you,
John Ruston

Anti-recycling myth #4: Recycling should pay for itself.

Fact: We do not expect landfills or incinerators to pay for themselves, nor
should we expect this of recycling. The real issue is how the costs that
recycling adds to the system over the long term compare to those of
methods of waste management. Taking an accounting "snap shot" of recycling
costs early in the life of existing programs is misleading, because of
substantial efficiencies that are being gained as these programs innovate and
mature. Current experience shows that well-run community recycling programs
can be cost-competitive with disposal options, as are the vast majority of
commercial recycling programs.

Viewed as an alternative to traditional solid waste management, municipal
recycling programs gain financial credits by avoiding disposal fees and
the sales of recyclable materials. When market prices for materials are high,
as in 1995, they can offset or exceed the costs of recycling collection.
Although the Times Magazine article treats low market prices as inevitable
("newsprint prices have since plummeted back to familiar levels"), there in
fact have been six cyclical peaks and troughs in prices for used newspapers
since 1974. [10]

Recycling incurs financial debits through the costs of collecting and
processing recyclable materials. The vast majority of community-based
recycling programs are less than ten years old. As a result of their recent
implementation, many of these programs are more expensive than they need to
be. The main cost of these programs comes from collecting materials, which
often initially requires new trucks and equipment that duplicate the function
of already-purchased garbage trucks. The keys to lowering the costs of
recycling are not only to pick up recyclable materials at the lowest cost
possible, but also to take advantage of the reduced amount of garbage that
needs to be collected to avoid duplication. Over time, as fewer garbage
need to be replaced due to increased recycling, garbage collection costs, and
hence total system costs, decrease.

The author ignored the strong empirical evidence that numerous U.S. cities are
making their collection systems much more cost-effective by changing truck
designs and collection schedules and by increasing the amount of material
collected for recycling. [11] For example, Fayetteville, AR added curbside
recycling with no increase in residential bills because it cut back waste
collection from twice weekly to once. Visalia, CA has developed a truck that
collects refuse and recyclable materials simultaneously.

Assessing the costs of recycling over the long term is not just a matter of
accounting for recycling's credits and debits, but understanding how recycling
affects the costs of the overall system. This subtle but extremely important
point was ignored by the author of "Recycling is Garbage."

In its discussion of the costs of curbside recycling collection, "Recycling is
Garbage" relies on a study of six cities conducted by the Solid Waste
Association of North America (SWANA). Even in Seattle, the one city
in this study where recycling is less expensive than landfilling, city
officials identified numerous substantial methodological problems with the
study that tend to overstate recycling costs. [12]

Conclusions from a much broader study of recycling costs in 60 randomly
selected U.S. cities with populations greater than 25,000 were provided to the
author of "Recycling is Garbage," but were again ignored. In this study, the
Ecodata, Inc. consulting firm collected detailed information on refuse
collection and curbside recycling collection costs. [13] Expressed in
terms of
what a typical household would pay, the average cost of recycling collection
(not factoring in revenues from sales of recyclable materials or avoided
disposal costs) averaged a little over $2 per month, or less than the price of
a meal at a fast-food restaurant.

More importantly, the study found that in cities with comparatively high
recycling rates, per-ton recycling collection costs were much lower than in
cities with low recycling rates. Not surprisingly, recycling more material
makes collection programs more efficient, in part because the costs of fixed
assets are spread over more tons of material collected. In addition, as
recycling and composting collection rates rise, there is greater potential to
reduce costs by cutting back on regular garbage collection.

Numerous cities have calculated that their per-ton recycling costs are lower
than per-ton garbage collection and disposal costs, and not just in times of
peaks in recycling markets. These cities include not only Seattle, WA, but
also Portland, OR, San Jose, CA, Austin, TX, Cincinnati, OH and Green Bay, WI.
[14] For the leading municipalities, the next step is to rationalize
and refuse costs in order to reduce overall expenditures. Similar efficiency
gains are being explored in commercial recycling programs.

Of course, this assessment of costs and revenues is limited to the perspective
of the local program, and does not reflect economic benefits that may accrue
elsewhere in the recycling system. For example, we have calculated a dollar
value for the manufacturing energy saved by recycling the mix of materials
collected in a typical curbside collection program, which amounts to nearly
$200 per ton of materials recycled. [15] This figure establishes the value of
the energy saved by recycling in contrast to other cost and revenue factors in
the recycling system. For example, 1994 landfill disposal fees in the United
States ranged from about $10 per ton to $140 per ton. [16]

Anti-recycling myth #5: There are no markets for recyclable materials.

Fact: Recycling is not just an alternative to traditional solid waste
disposal, it is the foundation for large, robust manufacturing industries in
the United States that use recyclable materials. These businesses are an
important part of our economy and provide the market foundation for the entire
recycling process. The volume of the major scrap materials sold in domestic
and global markets is growing steadily. As with all commodities, prices
fluctuate over time.

Recycling provides manufacturing industries with raw materials that are less
expensive than virgin sources, a long-term economic advantage that translates
into value for consumers who ultimately spend less on products and packaging.
For example, in the area of paper manufacturing, new mills making paper for
corrugated boxes, newsprint, commercial tissue products and folding cartons
have lower capital and operating costs than new mills using virgin wood. [17]
This is why U.S. pulp paper manufacturers have voluntarily built or expanded
more than 45 recycled paper mills in the 1990's, and are projected to spend
more than $10 billion on such facilities by the end of the decade. Recycling
has long been the lower-cost manufacturing option for aluminum smelters,
and is
essential to the scrap-fired steel "mini mills" that are part of the
rebirth of
a globally competitive U.S. steel industry.

The following table shows the recent and major growth in utilization of
recovered paper by U.S. paper mills from 1975 to 1997. A substantial
acceleration in the rate of use of recovered paper by U.S. paper manufacturers
began around 1985, coinciding with the expansion of business and community
recycling collection programs and increases in landfill disposal fees in the
Northeast and West Coast.

1985 1989 1993 1997 Compound annual growth rate (%)

(millions of tons) 75-85 85-89 89-93 93-97
Use of recovered paper by U.S. mills 11.7 16.5 20.2 28.3
33.4 3.5 5.2 9.4 4.3
Total U.S. paper production 51.0 68.6 78.3 86.6
92.3 3.0 3.4 2.5 1.6

Source: American Forest & Paper Association, 1994 Statistics; Paper,
Paperboard and Wood Pulp, pp. 52-53 (all data except 1993 recovered paper and
1997 recovered paper and total production estimates) and Paper, Paperboard,
Pulp Capacity and Fiber Consumption, 35th Annual Survey, p. 12, 24 (1997 data
based on 94% utilization of total maximum capacity); Washington, DC: AF&PA,

The benefits of recycling in increasing industrial competitiveness, reducing
manufacturing costs and creating jobs were completely ignored by "Recycling is
Garbage." For example, the article discussed the costs of recycling in New
York, but did not mention the four 100% recycled paper mills a half-an-hour's
drive from Manhattan in northern New Jersey, or the fact that scrap metal and
used paper are the largest exports from the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The Times Magazine's myopic view of recycling as merely an alternative to
garbage collection caused it to overlook the extraordinary developments in
recycling-based manufacturing in New York City as well as across the country.
A new 100% recycled paper mill is currently being constructed on Staten
a $250 million investment. Another 100% recycled newsprint mill has been
proposed for the South Bronx. These facilities are attracted to New York
because of the abundance of recovered (and less expensive) raw materials, in
spite of high construction and labor costs. [18] In transforming used paper
into new finished product, recycled paper mills such as these increase the
value of their raw materials roughly 10-15 times.

In a recent study examining ten northeastern states, recycling was found to
have added $7.2 billion in value to recovered materials through processing and
manufacturing activities. These activities employed approximately 103,000
people, twenty-five percent of them in materials processing and 75% in
manufacturing. [19]

Anti-recycling myth #6: Recycling doesn't "save trees" because we are growing
at least as many trees as we cut specifically to make paper.

Fact: Recycling reduces the pressure to turn natural forests into tree

creating substantial environmental and economic benefits. This effect is even
more pronounced when paper recycling is viewed on a global level.

The article correctly points out that more trees are being planted than cut,
but fails to address the severe and continuing loss of natural forests that
accompanied this tree planting. In the U.S. South, for example, where most of
the trees used to make paper are grown, pine plantations are replacing natural
pine forests at an alarming rate. While pine plantations are excellent at
growing wood, they are far less suited than natural forests to provide animal
habitat and preserve biodiversity. Since 1950, the portion of Southern pine
forest in plantations has grown from 2.5% to more than 40% in 1990, with a
concomitant loss in natural pine forest; [20] during this decade the
acreage of
pine plantations will overtake the area of natural pine forests across the
South, and is projected to approach 70% of all pine forest in the next few
decades.[21] By extending the overall fiber supply, paper recycling can
help to
reduce the pressure to convert remaining natural forests to tree farms. [22]

Arguing that there is no shortage of wood, one of the Times Magazine article's
sources claimed: "Acting to conserve trees by recycling paper is like acting
to conserve cornstalks by cutting back on corn consumption." There is one big
difference, of course: One can't eat cornstalks, whereas one can make new
paper from recycled paper. But more fundamentally, the claim that we have
plenty of wood and have no reason to conserve is wholly unfounded. Every
analysis of the question has concluded that, both domestically and
globally, we
face enormous pressure on forest resources to provide wood products, [23] not
to mention other important "goods" such as wildlife and fisheries, watershed
protection, animal habitat, etc.

The Times Magazine article claims that recycling newspaper is a bad idea. It
claims that because greater paper recycling will reduce demand for trees, some
landowners will sell their land to "condominium developers." This argument is
wrong on two counts. First, demand for wood is rising, not declining, even
with recycling. [24] Second, the "development value" of land close enough to
urban areas to be under development pressure is so much higher than even the
highest timber value that a demand-driven change in timber value -- up or down
-- would have vanishingly small effect.

Finally, "Recycling is Garbage" reflects a surprising ignorance of the role of
consumption and recycling in the United States within a global context. Since
1982, the majority of the growth in worldwide paper production has been
supported by recycled fiber, a major source of which is the United States.
[25] Even so, one fifth of all the paper produced in the world still enters
trash cans in the United States. According to one projection, demand for
in Asia, which does not have the extensive wood resources of North America or
Scandinavia, will grow from 60 million tons in 1990 to 107 million tons in
2000. Does the author of "Recycling is Garbage" really believe that the
growing demand for paper around the world can be sustained without recycling?

Anti-recycling myth #7: Stringent U.S. regulations ensure that the
environmental harms of manufacturing and using products are incorporated into
their prices.

Fact: Many of the costs that arise from environmental impacts of virgin
materials extraction, manufacturing, consumption and disposal are not included
in prices paid when products are bought and sold.

One of the most astonishing assertions in "Recycling is Garbage" is:

When consumers follow their preferences, they are guided by the simplest, and
often the best, measure of a product's environmental impact: its price.
Polystyrene cups are cheap because they require so little energy and material
to manufacture -- without reading a chemist's analysis, you can deduce from
cup's price that it's an efficient use of natural resources. Similarly, the
prices paid for scrap materials are a measure of their environmental value as

In fact, market prices for materials like polystyrene are set in the near term
by supply and demand forces, underpinned by a host of production cost factors,
many of which have nothing to do with environmental impact. An entire
sub-discipline of environmental economics has developed to address a range of
environmental damages, called externalities, that are not reflected in market
prices even in the most regulated industries.

For example, in the United States, major categories of wastes such as oil and
gas extraction wastes and mining wastes are exempt from certain federal
regulations. Where a coastal wetland in the Carolinas is converted to a pine
plantation and results in damage to estuarine fish hatcheries or reduced water
quality, such impacts are certainly not captured in the market price of wood
taken from the site.

Nor are any of the costs of disposal included in product prices. If someone
drains motor oil from a car into the gutter, it may pollute surface water or
groundwater. But the price originally paid for the oil does not anticipate
proper or improper disposal. Finally, another major obstacle to incorporating
environmental factors into market prices is the difficulty or impossibility of
assigning a meaningful economic cost to such "goods," for example, the
value of
preserving a rare animal or plant species.