Re: Who's really behind the attack on recycling
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:59:06 -0500

Do you remember seeing this message (forwarded from Dan and mary lou) on
greenyes a couple of weeks ago? This error message sounds like it may not have
been posted, but I do not want to post again if it went on.
bill s.

Perhaps you meant to send this to a mailing list? To send mail to
a list, send it to
where nameoflist is the name of the mailing list. Replying to
a mailing list message sends mail to, which
is the postmaster account.

Karen Pickens []
User Services, Network Operations, x4-1857

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Date: Fri, 28 Feb 97 22:25:05 PST
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Subject: Re: Who's really behind the attack on recycling
Status: RO

[Forwarded message]

February 26, 1997

To: GRN Listserve people
From: Dan Knapp and Mary Lou Van Deventer
Subject: Who's really behind the attack on recycling?

In their Greenpeace article distributed with the GRN campaign materials, Neil
Seldman and David Morris say "conservatives" and "disposal companies" are to
blame for many attacks on recycling, but this approach is inaccurate and
hurts our cause.

First, using the word "conservatives" this way continues a misnomer that
damages our interests. It treats our issue as though we have an inherent
political preference for one established side in a polarized situation. This
kind of political presumption laid more than one brick in the road to the
Berkeley Recycling Wars of the 1980s.

But real conservatives conserve, so they recycle and support recycling. The
popularity of recycling that Neil and David correctly cite is due partly to
the efforts of true conservatives who support recycling out of a deep
conviction that conserving is the right thing to do. They are correct.
Recycling is the most conservative way to handle discards because it
conserves value rather than wasting it. These true conservatives can be
found among Republicans and probably even among Libertarians. Urban Ore
supported a Republican in the last election because he opposed a landfill
that would discourage recycling.

Why throw away this clarity and opportunity for alliances? Why discard this
grassroots support from conservatives, and why polarize? Why not instead go
after the reactionaries that masquerade as conservatives? The attack on
recycling is a reactionary attack; its only program is to go back to
pre-Earth-Day-1970 wasting. Conserving our liaisons might permit us to
divide the reactionaries from the conservatives among the political parties.

Similarly, the term "disposal companies" includes thousands of reuse,
recycling, and composting companies. Neil's and David's analysis implies
incompatibility between disposal and recycling. But there is none, as more
recyclers recognize every day when they look to disposal service fees for
sustainable funding. Disposing of things that are valuable can include
selling, bestowing, arranging in order, and all the other orderly things
recyclers do with discarded materials. The fact that recyclers do disposal
better and cheaper than landfill and incinerator operators is the biggest
competitive advantage we have over wasters. It's an advantage that
complements the environmental one so near and dear to our hearts. Why waste
this advantage by ceding the entire disposal service industry to the waste
hauling companies?

Neil and David are right that the big waste-hauling companies are partly
behind the attack on recycling, but what motivates them to attack is the
success of recycling businesses in competing for the supply of discarded
material. The waste companies have lost so much market share that the
biggest ones are now selling off assets to smaller ones to keep their
publicly traded stock prices from falling through the floor. We should press
our advantage and keep expanding into niches wherever the waste industry is

Neil and David are also correct that the bond-trading firms on Wall Street
have also been a factor in the attack. Right after several court decisions
wiped out the flow-control props from under the incinerator and dirty-MRF
industries, someone estimated that at least $10 billion in bonds were in
mortal danger. This factor alone could explain the vicious attacks we have
endured. Here again effective price competition from recyclers was crucial.
But this is just supply and demand operating, not some age-old ideological
left-right schism.

Neil and David are also correct that money from the American Plastics Council
has played a central role in financing the attacks, but behind the APC are
dozens of American corporations that don't want to have to take long-term
responsibility for their products.

The underlying variables are too complex to be summed up as a resurgence of
tired old left-right dichotomies. We need to reframe the problems to our
strategic advantage, and we must position ourselves as the best, most truly
conservative method of disposing of unwanted resources.