NY Times Assessment

Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:22:28 -0500

Date: Mon, 1 Jul 1996 09:25:48 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Roger M. Guttentag" <rgutten@cris.com>
To: recycle@envirolink.org
Subject: Sunday NY Times article on recycling
Message-ID: <199607011325.JAA28717@darius.cris.com>
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I believe its already becoming well known that the Sunday New York Times in
its 6/30/96 Magazine edition had a front cover story that is severely
critical of recycling. This article is eerily familiar to a Wall Street
Journal-l front page story that was also harshly critical of recycling that
appeared last year. The basic premise of the NYT article appears to be that
mandatory municipal recycling on all levels and in all places is the result
of a liberal environmentalist cabal that was able to successfully foist a
"big government" solution to an environmental problem that doesn't really
exist and which sucks away public resources from real social problems (like
education) . There are several observations I offer:

(1) The article was severely unbalanced in its approach since none of the
sources he quoted from were strong recycling advocates. For example, John
Tierney did not bother to get even a symbolic response quote from the NRC.

(2) Offering NYC as an example of why municipal recycling doesn't work is
very misleading since NYC has constraints and problems that are truly
unique. Quite frankly, you can use NYC to show why no government sponsored
programs of any kind work (welfare, education, affordable housing, etc.)
Also, selectively quoting only one sentence from the Final NYC solid waste
management plan (dated 2/96), which is several hundred pages long, regarding
the poor economics of the City program is very disingenuous since this
document goes into a complete explanation of the program's economics which
was ignored by the article.

(3) Unfortunately, the article gains some of its plausibility both from the
fact that there is a segment of the recycling advocacy community who does
fit the profile of evangelical Recyclers who believe (sincerely) only in
Total Recycling as public policy and that recycling has often added to the
cost of overall municipal solid waste management in the short run. However,
the article again ignores the reality that not everyone active in recycling
is an advocate of Total Recycling and that costs do go down in response to
program experience and innovation.

(4) In my opinion, this article is another sign of the conservative pogrom
being waged against anything that is perceived as a creature of big
government. Mandatory municipal recycling is a product of state and local
government policies and now these policies are being targeted for attack
along with all other programs whose development was catalyzed or supported
by public sector policies. In short, a simplistic (and simple-minded)
formula is now being advocated : (Mandatory) municipal recycling = big
government therefore bad. Disposal = personal freedom therefore good. The
side Espousing these views has the major advantage of an easy to understand
position that resonates with popular anti-government sentiments.

(5) The worst response would be to attack John Tierney as a biased,
know-nothing journalist who doesn't understand the issues. The bigger issue
is: why will this article be viewed as credible and how can we mount a
response that will be viewed as superior in credibility. We need to develop
a strategy for creating and defending an easy to grasp message to the public
that says recycling = free markets + jobs + competition + cost efficiency.

If anyone doesn't have access to this article please e-mail me with your fax
number and I'll send it to you.