Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:21:48 -0500

[PART 3 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 #8: Misguided laws and regulations compel
manufacturers to
make costly changes in their packaging and products.

Fact: The asserted influence of legislation on the character of production
processes, products and packaging is grossly overstated. The vast majority of
environmental improvements that manufacturers have made in products and
packaging are cost-cutting measures or voluntary responses to customer

According to "Recycling is Garbage:" "Newspaper and magazine publishers,
products are a major component of municipal landfills, nobly led the crusade
against trash, and they're paying for it now through regulations that force
them to buy recycled paper -- a costly handicap in their struggle against
electronic rivals."

The facts tell a different story. In the late 1980's, newspaper publishers,
including the New York Times, negotiated and signed voluntary agreements with
the governors of New York and Massachusetts under which they agreed to
gradually increase their purchase of recycled-content newsprint. A
much-discussed law in passed in Connecticut around the same time that
purportedly required such action was largely symbolic; it contained no
enforcement provisions. With respect to magazines, we know of no law
being enforced that requires magazine publishers to use paper with recycled

Use and production of recycled newsprint is well-established. The nation's
first 100% recycled newsprint mill opened in Garfield, NJ in 1961, followed by
a similar mill in Pomona, CA in 1967. Both of these mills are still
historically, the market price of recycled newsprint has been less than virgin
newsprint. The Los Angeles Times prints the vast majority of its
newspapers on
recycled paper, for example.

Anti-recycling myth #9: Recycling is nearing its maximum potential.

Fact: There remains enormous room for growth in recycling -- even for the
most-recycled materials. Composting also holds strong potential, and we're
just getting started on waste reduction, the most important step of all.

Contrary to the claim made by Mr. Porter in the Times Magazine article that
"there aren't many more materials in garbage that are worth recycling," the
following amounts of commonly-recycled materials still remain in our trash
after recycling at current rates:

Percentage left in MSW Amount thrown away annually (million tons)
Newsprint 54% 6.0
Magazines 70% 1.5
Office paper 57% 3.9
Corrugated boxes 45% 12.7
Glass containers 74% 9.0
Steel cans 47% 1.4
Aluminum cans 34% 0.6
Plastic soda bottles 59% 0.4

Total for these materials 54% 35.5

In other words, more than half (54%) of even these highly recyclable materials
is not recycled. [26]

Additionally, yard trimmings make up about 20% of our waste nationwide, and
more than a third in many suburban communities, particularly in the Sunbelt.
Less than a quarter of this material is currently recovered for composting.
[27] When they find their way into landfills (or incinerators), these
materials contribute significantly to the air pollution released by these
facilities. Although composting and recycling programs often work best in
tandem, the benefits of municipal composting programs are rarely discussed by
the anti-recyclers, including the Times Magazine article.

Anti-recycling myth #10: Recycling is a time-consuming burden on the American

Fact: Convenient, well-designed recycling programs allow Americans to take
action in their daily lives to reduce the environmental impact of the products
they consume. Informing citizens of the costs of their own consumption and
disposal activities through "pay as you throw" user fees makes economic and
environmental sense -- but only if viable recycling and composting programs
in place.

In a bizarre example of "research," the author of "Recycling is Garbage" asked
a college student to measure the time he spent separating materials for
recycling during one week. The total time spent was eight minutes. The
extrapolates this to a value of $2,000 per ton of materials recycled, by
factoring in janitor's wages and the rent for a square foot of kitchen
space --
as if dropping the newspapers off at the curb on your way downstairs to get a
bagel could be equated with going to work at a janitorial job, or as if New
Yorkers had the means to turn small, unused increments of apartment floor
into tradable commodities.

Using this logic, the article might have taken the next step of calculating
economic cost to society for the college student to make his bed and do his
dishes every day. The only different between recycling and other routine
housework -- like taking out the trash -- is that one makes your immediate
environment cleaner while the other one does the same for the broader

We need to be honest about the fact that our consumption of products and
services has a significant environmental impact, especially when U.S.
consumption levels are seen a global context. Waste reduction, reuse and
recycling give us the opportunity to take some responsibility for this impact
and reduce its effects, if we so choose.

In addition to the environmental consequences of consumption and disposal,
the full economic costs of these activities has been far from apparent to the
individual consumer. The cost of garbage collection and disposal, for
has long been obscured in most households' property tax bill. Under this
system, one family can put three times as much trash out as the family next
door; yet typically both families will pay the same for the collection
and neither will know the actual cost.

In one case where we agree with the author of "Recycling is Garbage," the
Environmental Defense Fund has long supported local systems that assess unit
prices or fees for the amount of trash set at the curb -- the more you throw
away, the more you pay. Now in place in a growing number of communities, this
accounting practice gives people an incentive to reduce the amount of waste
they generate and have to throw away. But such incentives work only if viable
recycling and composting programs are in place that give consumers the direct
means to reduce their discards. The Times Magazine article failed to mention
this essential caveat.


Compared to using materials once, then throwing them away and having to
them, recycling saves energy, dramatically reduces pollution from
manufacturing, and avoids the destruction of natural resources that occurs
extracting virgin materials. At the current national rate of about 26%,
recycling saves enough energy to supply the needs of 9 million U.S.
households. And recycling paper cuts down on air and water pollution while
reducing pressure to cut down our remaining forests and convert them into
monotonous tree farms.

The greatest economic benefit of recycling is that it provides a base of
materials for robust, efficient manufacturing industries. So far this decade,
U.S. paper manufacturers have voluntarily built more than 45 recycling-based
pulp and paper mills and only a handful that use virgin wood. This is not
because recycling plants are better for the environment, but because they
are a
less expensive way to increase production, taking advantage of the increasing
supplies of used paper collected in business and community recycling programs.

Appendix: Are Disposables Really Better than Reusables?

The author of "Recycling is Garbage" addresses a number of environmental
debates that have no apparent link to recycling but have been pet peeves of
plastics and packaging industries. One of these is the question of the
relative merits of disposable and reusable food serviceware.

Environmental impact

The author begins by making a massive over-generalization: on the basis of
measure of environmental impact -- energy use -- taken from one study of a
comparison of one specific reusable item (a ceramic mug) with one disposable
item (a polystyrene foam cup), he implies that reusables are rarely or never
preferable to disposables. If any generalization can be drawn from such
studies, it is that the conclusions are highly dependent on the specifics of
what is being compared to what, including what assumptions are made, for
example, about the manner in which the items being compared are used.

In selectively reporting only the energy use comparison, the author neglects
other impacts such as air and water pollution and solid waste. Moreover, even
for this one measure, he omits other studies that found dramatically different
results. In a recent review of studies similar to the one cited by the author
-- published, interestingly, by another of the author's most prominent sources
[28] -- all of the studies reviewed found reusables to consume less energy
disposables after a number of reuses far lower than the 900 reuses cited in
article, and well within the number of uses achieved in practice. Most of the
studies found that air pollution and solid waste impacts were lower for
reusables, while water pollution impacts were generally higher for the

All in all, the reports paint a far more favorable picture for reusables than
implied by the author through his selective reporting of the available data.

Sanitation considerations

The author also claims that disposables are more sanitary than reusables,
on a comparison of surface bacterial counts on reusable vs. disposable
and utensils. This argument, based on a study commissioned by the disposables
industry, is a common claim made in the industry's promotional literature.
While the study did indeed find higher bacterial counts on reusable than on
disposable items, three critical caveats must be added to understand the
significance of this finding:

* First, the test used to measure bacteria on the items detects all bacteria,
including bacteria commonly found in the environment or even in the human
intestinal tract. The test did not measure pathogenic bacteria (i.e., those
capable of causing disease).

* Second, even were any of the bacteria detected actually pathogenic, the
number of bacteria (on average about 400) found on the reusable items is at
least several orders of magnitude below an infectious dose (generally a
or more).

* Third, even under normal circumstances, food itself contains far more
bacteria of the same type than were found on the foodservice items. For
example, various studies that used the same test procedures as those discussed
above report that one-quarter of the fried hamburgers from various North
American fast-food outlets had bacterial counts between 100 and 1000 per gram
(or 11,000 to 110,000 for a quarter-pound hamburger); lettuce contained
bacterial counts ranging from a low of 100,000 per gram to as high as 190
million per gram. [29] These counts mean that food contains hundreds to
millions of times more bacteria than are present on the washed plate or
used to serve the food.



1. For other examples of the arguments made by anti-recyclers, see Jeff
Bailey, "Curbside Recycling Comforts the Soul, But Benefits are Scant," Wall
Street Journal, January 19, 1995; Lynn Scarlett (Reason Foundation) "A
Consumer's Guide to Environmental Myths and Realities," Dallas, TX: National
Center for Policy Analysis, September, 1991; Grant Schaumberg and Katherine
Doyle, "Wasting Resources to Reduce Waste: Recycling in New Jersey,"
DC: Cato Institute, January 26, 1994; James DeLong, "Wasting Away; Mismanaging
Municipal Solid Waste," Washington, DC: Competitive Enterprise Institute, May,

2. EDF has also published an earlier rebuttal of these arguments. See
J. and Denison, R.A. (1995) Advantage Recycle: Assessing the Full Costs and
Benefits of Curbside Recycling, Environmental Defense Fund, New York, NY.

3. For example, the Reason Foundation's annual report lists Champion
International (primarily virgin paper), Dart Container (polystyrene packaging)
Kimberly-Clark (disposable diapers and tissue), Procter & Gamble, Union
Carbide, Waste Management of North America and Wheelabrator (garbage
incinerators) as supporters. Clients of the Waste Policy Center include the
Grocery Manufacturers of America, McDonald's, the National Soft Drink
Association, and TetraPak (a major manufacturer of aspetic packaging, or
packs"). The Competitive Enterprise Institute does not disclose its funders.
As additional examples of the tendency for economic self-interest to manifest
itself in debates over consumption, recycling and waste management, trade
associations for the plastics, paper and consumer products industries played a
major role in overturning a California law regulating the use of environmental
claims in advertising, and are currently involved in a worldwide effort to
back environmental labeling and product certification programs. (Rodrigo
Prudencio, "Protecting Eco-Labels," Journal of Commerce, July 1, 1996.)

4. See, for example, The Roper Organization, Inc., The Environment: Public
Attitudes and Individual Behavior, commissioned by S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.,
July 1990; and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Promoting Source
Reduction and Recyclability in the Marketplace," Office of Policy, Planning
Evaluation, EPA 530-SW-89-066, Washington, DC, November 1989.

5. Denison, R.A. (1996) "Environmental Lifecycle Comparisons of Recycling,
Landfilling and Incineration: A Review of Recent Studies," Annual Review of
Energy and the Environment, Volume 21, Annual Reviews, Inc.: Palo Alto,
CA, in

6. Ibid.

7. Paper Task Force [Duke University, Environmental Defense Fund, Johnson &
Johnson, McDonald's, The Prudential and Time Inc.] (1995) Recommendations for
Purchasing and Using Environmentally Preferable Paper, Environmental Defense
Fund, New York, NY, Chapter 3 and White Paper 3.

8. Environmental Protection Agency, "Standards of Performance for New
Stationary Sources and Guidelines for Control of Existing Sources: Municipal
Solid Waste Landfills," Final rule and guideline, Federal Register, Mar. 12,

9. EDF, To Burn or Not to Burn; The Economic Advantages of Recycling Compared
to Garbage Incineration for New York City, (New York: EDF, 1984); Denison,
and J. Ruston, eds. (1990) Recycling and Incineration: Evaluating the
Washington, DC: Island Press..

10. Data supplied by Resource Information Systems, Inc., Bedford MA, in Paper
Task Force (1995) Recommendations for Purchasing and Using Environmentally
Preferable Paper, Figure 4, p. 84.

11. Jerry Powell, "Twenty-two ways to cut the cost of curbside recycling
collection," Resource Recycling, January 1996 issue, p. 41 ff.; Paul Ligon,
Brian Zuckerman, John Stutz , "Increasing recovery at the curb," Resource
Recycling, February 1996, p. 60ff; Steve Apotheker, "Curbside recycling: The
second generation," Resource Recycling, April 1995, p. 38ff; Barbara Stevens,
"Lessons from high achievers: Cities with successful curbside recycling
programs," Resource Recycling, October, 1995, p. 58ff.

12. Paper Task Force, White Paper 2, The Economics of Recycling as an
Alternative to Traditional Means of Solid Waste Management, December 19, 1995,
p. 89.

13. A discussion of the Ecodata study of residential refuse and curbside
recycling collection costs can be found in Barbara Stevens (president of
Ecodata, Inc.), "Recycling by the numbers: results of a national survey,"
Resource Recycling, November, 1994.

14. Steve Apotheker, op. cit.

15. Ruston, J. and Denison, R. (1995) Advantage Recycle, ibid.

16. Solid Waste Digest, Northeast, Southern and Western editions, December,
1994, p. ii (each edition). New York State reported landfill tip fees of
up to
$140 per ton in two counties in 1994. William Ferretti, director, Office of
Recycling Market Development, New York State Department of Economic
Development, personal communication, May 12, 1995.

17. Economic analysis based on data supplied by Resource Information Systems,
Inc. and Jacobs Sirrine Consultants, Inc. Paper Task Force, White Paper 9,
Economics of Manufacturing Virgin and Recycled-Content Paper, December 19,

18. John Holusha, "A New Factory and New Jobs? A $250 million plant on
Island Will Turn Trash Into Paper," New York Times, July 7, 1996.

19. Roy F. Weston, Inc., Value Added to Recyclable Materials in the
prepared for the Northeast Recycling Council, May 8, 1994, pp. 2-5.

20. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, (1988) The South's Fourth
Forest, Forest Res. Rept. No. 24 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing
Office), 1988.

21. Haynes R.W. et al. (1995) The 1993 RPA Timber Assessment Update, USDA
Forest Service, General Technical Report RM-259 (Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest
Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, March 1995).

22. Ince, P.J. (1994), Recycling and Long-Range Timber Outlook, Gen. Tech.
Rept. RM-242 (Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and
Range Experiment Station, February 1994).