Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:21:56 -0500

July 5, 1996

Editor, Letters to the Editor
The New York Times

Dear Editor:

John Tierney's featured July 30 New York Times Magazine article,
"Recycling is Garbage," is an irresponsible piece of journalistic
garbage. In essence Tierney claims that all landfills are cheap and
good, while all recycling is expensive and bad. He suggests that
recycling is being foisted on a naive public and innocent children
by environmentalists and greedy recycling business interests.

How about a few facts and real-world observations as opposed to
Tierneyesque factoids and fantasies? Tierney makes use of the now
hackneyed argument that there is plenty of land in America for
landfills--the good cheap ones of days gone by. He suggests that
even if we were to generate waste at today's rates, we would only
need an area of "35 square miles by 100 yards high to contain it all."
No big deal, right? Wrong!

As a state regulator who has dealt with landfill permits in
California for 5 years, no landfill is easy to site no matter where it
is, whether near a city or out in the remote desert. Indeed, in
spacious California, it takes 10 or more years to permit a landfill, if
it can be permitted at all.

And who opposes the landfills? Most often it's neighborhood
associations and adjacent cities and counties that don't like trash
being deposited in their area or the associated noise, traffic,and
litter. I guess in Mr. Tierney's fevered mind, the public and cities
and counties are rabid environmentalists.

As for the argument that recycling is too expensive, Mr. Tierney
needs to do his homework before making a sweeping
generalization. The relative costs of recycling compared to
landfilling and other options depend on how far one must
transport waste to a landfill l and the disposal costs once there, as
well as on the development of cost-effective collection systems for
recyclables (which, I admit, was often not the case in the older, first
generation of recycling programs).

In California, disposal at new remote landfill sites is estimated to
cost between $30-60 per ton. Recycling of numerous commodities
and the composting of organic materials are being done
comfortably within this price structure today in California. This is
fact, not fantasy.

Mr. Tierney argues that with respect to resources there is so much
to go around that conservation shouldn't even be a matter of
concern. What a thoroughly ridiculous and irresponsible
statement. If this were so, why would the paper industry have
restructured to use old paper as a primary means of meeting the
fiber needs of the world? Why would it have spent billions of
dollars to do this? This is only one of many examples based on
economic considerations alone, and I haven't even addressed the
weak philosophical premises underlying Mr. Tierney's conclusions.

Recycling today is an integral part of the world economy and will
grow by necessity, not solely by government dictate as Tierney
suggests. Investments in recycling will clean up some of the worst
polluting paper mills in the world along with other polluting
industries, especially those in the developing world. It will also
produce, as it has done in California, thousands of jobs and new
industries that reflect the future, not the past.

And as for the children, to suggest that their time is being wasted
learning about how to manage wastes and the environment wisely
is terribly condescending. I suppose i n Mr. Tierney's elitist mind,
the adults and children who study conservation with interest and
practice it by recycling are too dumb to know better. Fortunately I
think they are far too smart for Tierney.

Paul M. Relis
Board Member

Integrated Waste Management Board
8800 Cal Center Dr.
Sacramento, CA 95826
(916) 255-2200