GreenYes Digest V97 #44

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GreenYes Digest Tue, 4 Mar 97 Volume 97 : Issue 44

Today's Topics:
50% waste reduction/Mandatory Recycling
Exemplary Waste Reducers (3 msgs)
Fwd: FF '97
Job Opening -please post
Mining Shame
Online Seminar with Herman Daly, BEYOND GROWTH
Paul Relis Reappointed
Please post
Why no mail?
Zero Waste Ver 2.0

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Date: Mon, 3 Mar 1997 12:01:09 -0500 (EST)
From: Frank Ackerman <>

I agree, this exchange shouldn't go on much longer (and I'm about to leave
for a 3-week speaking trip, and may not see replies until the last week in
March). I would welcome an opportunity to have this discussion aired at
the NRC or other such forums.

Briefly, let me try a new approach. We all agree, I think, that a)
recycling is a good thing, and should be defended and expanded; and b) it
is under attack because, in most places most of the time, it does not
(yet) make a profit. How should we respond to this? As I understand it,
the Sheehan/Anderson position is to say

1) Virtually all existing landfills pose an immense threat to drinking
water, and should be replaced or redesigned -- which would substantially
raise the avoided landfill costs, a major benefit of recycling; and

2) Clever reorganization of truck fleets, in a manner that has apparently
been achieved in practice only in Madison, Wisconsin, can result in
substantial collection cost savings.

If both of these points were accepted, then I agree, recycling would look
much more profitable, and my conclusions would be different.

My alternative is to say

3) Thanks to continuing, creative attempts to make recycling more
efficient, it loses only a little bit of money (far less than the
anti-recyclers claim) on average; scrap market price fluctuations render
the bottom line evaluation of recycling unpredictable from year to year.

4) The quite modest losses that have been experienced in recycling are
well within the amounts that people should be willing to pay -- and are in
practice willing to pay -- to advance important environmental goals.

Which combination is easier to persuade people to accept: 1) and 2), or 3)
and 4)? Decide for yourself. Personally, I'm agnostic on 1), but doubt
that it can be sold to the public; and I don't believe 2). Hence I think
3) and 4) are a much better ground to stand on. Also, 4) is an essential
argument to make in rehabilitating the impoverished discourse on public
policy in America.

It's not really that helpful to go on about who's giving aid and comfort
to the Cato Institute and the Tierneys of the world -- obviously, if
either position is right, then the other one is wrong and subject to
misinterpretation by our enemies. If Sheehan/Anderson are right, then as
they say, my views understate the profitability of recycling, and give
away our strongest (i.e., their) argument. If I'm right, then they make
the false claim that profitability for recycling is right around the
corner, and offer to have recycling judged by a standard on which it will
lose, giving away our strongest (i.e., my) argument.

Just one more point, for those who love the details: I agree, in many
places garbage trucks pick up two loads a day, and I regret the careless
wording at one point in my book on this question. However, Anderson's
claimed collection cost savings do not follow automatically whenever
garbage trucks handle two loads a day.

In my last response I explained why, in theory, I believe that Anderson's
collection cost savings are unlikely, and why, in specific, I believe that
the savings in Madison may be a special case. I'm not trying to be an
umpire, just one researcher asking another about evidence relevant to a
current theoretical controversy: Where, other than Madison, have total
(garbage plus recycling) collection costs gone down as a direct result of
the introduction of curbside recycling?


Date: Tue, 4 Mar 1997 00:29:54 -0700
From: (Carolyn Chase)

I'd just like to make a comment as an activist member of the general public
who read Frank's book about a month or so ago. I do know more than your
average person about recycling and landfill costs etc, since I am on the
City of San Diego Waste Management Advisory Board, but I have never been in
the recycling business.

What's surprised me is that the exchanges about this book so far have been
focused on the economics so much....when what is most interesting is his
points about the moral aspects of recycling.

I thought the economic arguments in the book to be quite secondary to this,
though I do agree that he underestimated the benefits/rewards of offsetting
landfill siting and also underestimated the potential savings on routes (as
these apply in my region).

but this is minutae of little interest to the general public and wiil not
hold sway becasue it is a level of detail too much for anyone not in the
recycling business. His 2 main digestable points are:
1. recycling is a moral or religious activity
2. lighter weight is preferable to recycling because of production vs waste

I would be interested if anyone cares to comment on point 2.

I want to remark on point one.

One actually works to our benefit, iff we understand how it works to our
benefit. Understanding this is what will allow, eventually for recycling to
become economically viable. NOTHING generally ever starts out economically
viable or priced correctly. Processes/products/services are MADE or become
economically viable because enough of the people combined with enough
talent, brains, power and hard work SET UP systems to make the economics
work for other purposes.

If we stick to economics arguments only we will continue to lose and be
trapped in the boom-bust industrial cycles - we should go straight for the
righteousness of the cause, secure our future via political action and set
up trading-markets where lots of people can gamble for us and against us,
but with the brokers always making a piece of each trade. It's funny, but
sometimes I wonder how it can ever be economically viable to do something
like drill for oil in the north Sea, or move freighters of paper umbrellas
from Taiwan to a gross level I have to think the people doing
things like this are not having the same type of economic detailed fights
that we are having.....

but I digress....anyone care to address these other points?


Carolyn Chase, Editor, San Diego Earth Times,
Please visit ;-)

Tel: (619)272-7423 (SDET)
FAX: (619)272-2933
P.O. Box 9827 / San Diego CA 92169

'You've got to conserve what you can't replace'
Please send contributions to: C-QUAL
Californians for Quality of Life, Citizen's Political Action Committee
P.O. Box 9212, San Diego CA 92169

"Every American citizen is involved in politics; it's just that some people
do politics, some have it done to them."


Date: Mon, 03 Mar 1997 16:24:34 -0600
From: George Dreckmann <>


Being a friend of Peter Anderson and having read Fred's book (okay, I
haven't finished the last chapter, but I will before the final exam. Honest.)
I have found their exchange very enlightening and worthwhile. I think the
idea of a discussion at the next NRC conference would be a very good
one. These types of debates only make us stronger.

Where do I stand? Well, coming from that unique case, Madison, WI, I
would have to side with Peter on econmics. At least let me say that
recycling could improve the economics of most refuse hauling systems if
hide bound public works officials or out dated contracts didn't ham string
the system. Would they work as well as they have done here in
Madison.....not for most. However, solid wastes collection costs could
be trimmed after recycling programs are up and running for a few years.

The other economic argurment that should be advanced, when it can, is
that the cost per ton of collecting, processing and marketing recyclables
can be less than the cost of collecting, transfering and landfilling refuse.
I tell our customers that as long as we have the brown truck and the
green turck coming down the street, it is cheaper to put recyclabes on
the green trucks than in the brown ones. In 1996 the difference was
$3.60 per ton. 1995 it was $65 per ton and in 1994 it was $7.50 per ton
less to recycle than landfill. (In 1996 the landfill fee was cut $4 per ton.)

These cost savings are being accomplished using outdated recycling
collection technology. We recently demoed a split side loader with
compaction. We were able to get 1.5 recycling routes covered in one
day one a single dump (we are currently dumping recyclabels 2x per
day.). These trucks would allow us to cut our recycling collection costs
15-20% improving the picture even more.

Take two and hit to right.



Date: Tue, 04 Mar 1997 06:18:40 -0600
From: George Dreckmann <>


I guess that I have spent some time on the economic arguments because
that is where we are being attacked. To let economic challanges go
unanswered is to let that stand as fact, when the facts support us on
many things.

Also, many of our programs are secure due to public support. However,
many programs are not. In Wisconsin we have several communities
whose political leaders say they will drop curbside programs if state
assistance is not continued so there is a threat and it is economic.

I also think that, in my own case, the moral arguements are genitically
encoded and so I treat them as a given rather than something that is
even debatable. (Though I'm sure others would debate me.)

I have a concern about the lightweighting issue. The basis of this
arguement seems to be that we landfill less weight if containers are light.
Of course there are other issues like volume or would is it better for the
environment to landfill 20 tons of glass of 2 tons of plastic? Frankly, I'll
take the glass.

The central element of lightweighting is generally a switch to plastic.
Since plastic is made from petroleum we have the issue of the use of a
rapidly depleating resource (dare I say our most ciritical resource) for a
single use container.

If plastics are produced from petro by products, which I know many are,
then the use of these byproducts only helps feed our cheap energy, high
pollution, fossil fuel system. With no profits from the sale of byproducts
to the plastic industry, fuel would cost more and perhaps we would use

I do not deny that they are some benefits to lightweighting packages.
However, I disagree with the basic premise of the Tellus arguement that
weight is the major cirteria in judging which package is best.

Take two and hit to right,



Date: Mon, 3 Mar 1997 11:08:19 -0800 (PST)
From: (Brenda Platt)
Subject: 50% waste reduction/Mandatory Recycling

We'll look at how each of the programs we document define "waste
diversion," "recycling rates," and "recovery" etc. as well as apply a
consistent methodology in how we calculate rates (especially for those we
profile in detail).

In my previous reports, "Beyond 25%" and "Beyond 40%," we did a detailed
analysis of waste generation and recovery figures for each of the
communities we profiled. We excluded items such as wood waste burned and
auto hulks in our calculation of MSW materials recovery levels. Newark,
NJ, for instance, intially reported to us that they had a 51% recycling
level, but our "apples and apples" metholodogy resulted in only a 30%
level. We also broke out residential recovery levels versus
commercial/institutional recovery levels in addition to showing total MSW
recovery levels. Where appropriate, we showed C&D recovery levels
separately. In addition, we broke out "recycling rates" from "composting
rates." We are using a similar methodology in the current Waste Reduction
Record-Setters project and will be using EPA definitions for MSW.

The questions you pose with regard to states with "high rates" are all
good. I'll certainly keep these in mind as we do our analyses.
Thanx for your input.


>Hello Brenda,
>Thank you for the update on ILSR's upcoming review of successful
>programs. I look forward to the results. Are you planning on taking
>a look at how each of these programs define "waste diversion,"
>"recycling rates," and "recovery?" How about household solid waste
>versus the total solid waste stream? Are some using waste generation
>as a baseline while others use waste disposal? Are some correcting
>for population and economic factors while others are not? Since high
>"rates" are an important aspect of your study, addressing these
>issues would seem to be a necessity.
>I will also be very interested in any information that deals with the
>characteristics of some "high rate" states. How much is exported?
>Are the recovery and end-use applications relatively stable (i.e., do
>the high rates reflect a "snap shot" in time due to strong supply-
>side mandates, or are they sustainable)? Do some states have unique
>or stronger end use markets due to the industries that are there?
>What activities are unique to a given state and what activities can
>be carried out in other states (other than issues related to
>overcoming institutional barriers)? What are the tipping fees at
>disposal facilities? ............. I think a qualitative analysis
>along these lines would be tremendously valuable.
>Good luck and I look forward to the results of your work. ILSR has
>been an invaluable resource in the debate arena.
>Dave Reynolds

Brenda A. Platt
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
2425 18th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009
(202) 232-4108 fax (202) 332-4108
ILSR web page


Date: Mon, 3 Mar 1997 09:50:39 -0600
From: RecycleWorlds <>
Subject: =?iso-8859-1?Q?=09=22WHY_DO_WE_RECYCLE=22_BY_FRANK_ACKERMAN?=


Frank Ackerman on 2/28 replied to our critique of his book,
stating: " Neither one of their points struck me as persuasive in
its entirety," followed by his major point that economics is
unimportant, and then by his point by point reply on
the question of landfill impacts and collection savings. Hoping that
this doesn't go on for too long, we'd like to respond briefly to his


Absolutely, we should not agree to be bound by economics
because externalities don't get counted. But that does
not mean that we should chop off our right arm and concede
the economic argument either when there is such a strong case to
make. If we are factually correct, then the tools exist right now to
recognize that:

[1] When landfills are redesigned to not contaminate drinking
water, the avoided tipping fee savings from recycling is no
longer just $10 per household per year, but rather between
approximately $20 and $40 HH/yr -- compared to the $18 -$30
gross cost per houshold per year for operating a second
fleet of recycling trucks -- before accounting for offsetting
savings; and

[2] When recycling succeeds in diverting 20-30% of the waste stream in
most communities which integrate their systems, the
entire cost of the second fleet of truck can be offset as the
diversion reduces the number and size of the trash
trucks needed.

Recycling is in jeopardy today, not because collection systems have
not been established to separate the simple recoverables from the waste
stream (nor because the public no longer supports it), but because
industry is withdrawing support for maintaining
markets for newsprint and plastic. To a significant degree, they are
succeeding by claiming recycling doesn't make economic sense.

Books like "Why Do We Recycle" are only going to feed into this,
especially if recyclers let Frank say that the book represents our position.
After all if we ourselves concede that recycler's economics are at
best marginal, the case is closed insofar as much of America's
decision-makers are concerned. Since Frank's conclusions are,
in our view, based upon factual misunderstandings that are
clearly wrong, we believe it would be foolhardy for us to
let this happen


When Frank says that recyclers shouldn't let ourselves be defined by
economics, he's absolutely right.

But, in the context of our concerns with his book, that is a straw man.

For no one in this colloquy has argued that recyclers should let
themselves be judged on economics alone. Indeed, in the lead
paragraph of our critique, we emphasized that exact same point
he makes.

What we were saying, however, is that neither a fair and accurate
presentment of the issue -- nor the recycler's best case -- should
ignore the two key factors undergirding the economics of diversion.

One does not, after all, chop off one's right arm before going into battle.

Like it or not, a very substantial portion of the decision-makers, and
a non-trivial part of the public at large, do view issues through an
economic prism -- notwithstanding all of the infirmities of the so
called free market that we would like them to recognize, but they
do not. The role of morality in America today is, after all, at best
attenuated. Thus, as we said, it would be like cutting off our nose
to spite our face to give up that fight with these people without
firing a shot.

For, the bottom line is that we think that Frank just did not have
a sufficient grounding in collection or landfill issues to be in a
position to evaluate recycling's economics and conclude that
they are weak.

After all, Frank has not been appointed a judge to sit back like an
umpire "blandly calling balls and strikes" and be in a position to
demand that others provide sufficient evidence to him that he
deems adequate to support their point of view. Rather, he is an
individual who asserts that he himself has sufficient expertise to
write a complete analysis. Unfortunately, while he obviously
knows a good deal about many things -- and his section on
production impacts is great -- his book and his response
suggests that he just does not know nearly enough to
analyze many of the key factors relating to recycling necessary for
the full story to be told.


Very briefly concerning the landfill issues, he concedes that
"this isn't my area of speciality". Instead he says that he relied
upon EPA. In view of the political pressures from Congress that
even the best people in that agency suffer under, that is a weak
reed to base conclusions on. But, even if one wants to confine
the merits of the issue to EPA's position -- which we would dispute
-- the agency itself has said precisely what we were so disturbed
that Frank ignored:

"Once the unit is closed, the bottom layer of the landfill will
deteriorate over time and, consequently, will not prevent
leachate transport out of the unit."

Moreover, his response seems to indicate that -- even if EPA's
views defined the validity of the issue -- that he does not understand
what the agency is actually saying. For, in support of his claim that
EPA discounts liner leakage, in addition to ignoring the agency's
official statement that we quoted in our critique, he says he relied
instead upon further personal communications from EPA, namely:

"Moreover, they are concerned that some of the worst
MSW leachate leakage problems, in California a few
years back, came when leaks occurred during the active
fluid circulation stage of management of a wet-cell landfill;
this method may not be free of risks and problems of its own."

Those concerns he quotes involve HOW best to eliminate the
decomposing organic fraction of the waste stream not WHETHER to
do so. Indeed it is true that Prof. Ham's and Dr. Lee's least-cost means of
eliminating organics -- namely in-ground recirculation -- has its own sets of
problems. That is absolutely true. But, what Frank is missing is that
does NOT mean that it is safe to landfill organic material which will later
decompose and leach through degraded liners into drinking supplies.
Rather it means that preventing problems from decomposing organic
material may be far more costly than our original note outlined, probably
involving some sort of substantially more expensive above ground
in-vessel system.


Concerning the collection issue, without repeating the detailed
explanation in our original note, essentially the question of whether
diversion can yield big reduction in the the garbage fleet or only
minor savings depends primarily on one thing. That is whether, before
recycling/composting, did those trash trucks have to dump more than once
a day. Frank believes that they do not, that they only dumped once
a day. We believe that, in the typical case, the solid waste vehicles had
to dump twice, and, with sufficient diversion (that is being achieved in
most successful programs today) that second trip can be avoided,
thereby savings 20% or more of the route time. Every person can
answer that question for themselves calling up your local hauler to ask.

We would prefer to use an intimate understanding of how collection
physically works on the street rather than broad statistical studies that
are years out of date before most of the efficiency gains were in
place and have such wide uncertainties surrounding their data points
that the conclusions are totally illogical (for example, that more diversion
increases the number of trash trucks required).

Certainly, reasonable people may disagree. Everyone will have to
draw their own conclusion about which is the better approach
at a time when there is no perfect data set available to
conclusively answer the question.

But in any event, it should be clear that Frank's book is neither an
accurate statement of recycling's economics, nor, obviously, a
recycler's. The value of the book lies is far more limited than
he is asking us to accept it for, namely primarily in the section
dealing with production impacts. Otherwise, the next fusillade from
the Cato Institute will gloat that even the recyclers' own expert
concede recycling makes no economic sense.


Date: Mon, 3 Mar 1997 11:16:35 -0800 (PST)
From: (Brenda Platt)
Subject: Exemplary Waste Reducers

Marjorie and others,
Yes, the question of costs is critical! Our project will seek to document
"cost-effective" waste reduction record-setters.
Marjorie asks: "how much do successful waste prevention,
recycling, and composting programs cost (in the aggregate, per ton, and per
capita) and how much waste is prevented, recycled and composted. How much
is spent on educational measures where prevention and recycling rates are
high (aggregate, per ton, per capita), and what kinds (i.e. approaches,
frequency, etc) of education and enforcement measures are most effective?"
For the 20 communities we profile in detail, we'll look at these kinds of
costs issues. I'll keep y'all posted.

When designed right, I believe that recycling programs are cost-competitive
with trash collection and disposal. It is true that in some communities
recycling is expensive. But often that is because these communities are
still recycling at very low rates and are treating recycling as an add-on
to their traditional trash system rather than as a replacement for it.
Communities that maximize recycling save money by redesigning their
collection schedules and/or trucks.
Recycling critics erroneously assume that virtually all the costs of the
solid waste system are fixed, that is, represent long-term capital
investments. This assumption leads them to view recycling as an add-on
cost and therefore expensive. In fact, when recycling reaches high levels
and system managers view it as the way they collect wastes, then fixed
costs can become variable costs. Labor can be reassigned. Twenty percent
of the fleet vehicles turn over annually and can be redesigned and reduced
in scale and cost. Baltimore, Maryland, for example, uses the same
conventional trash trucks to collect recyclables and trash, separately and
at different times. This minimized its upfront costs and allowed Baltimore
to add recycling with no increase in its solid waste budget. Loveland,
Colorado, uses the same vehicles to collect recyclables and trash, but does
so simultaneously. Loveland recovers 56% of its residential waste. Cost
per household did not rise when the City added recycling. Plano, Texas
replaced one of its two trash collection days with collection of
recyclables and yard waste at no additional costs. Takoma Park, Maryland
did the same. The City avoided hiring additional employees by splitting
collection crews between recycling and trash. Not only has the number of
trucks remained the same, but they have not been replaced and need less
maintenance as a result of decreased trash collected; half of Takoma Park's
waste is recovered. The economics of materials recovery improves when,
instead of adding the costs of recycling and composting onto the costs of
conventional collection and disposal, the two are integrated.


Brenda A. Platt
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
2425 18th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009
(202) 232-4108 fax (202) 332-4108
ILSR web page


Date: Mon, 3 Mar 1997 11:16:35 -0800 (PST)
From: (Brenda Platt)
Subject: Exemplary Waste Reducers

Marjorie and others,
Yes, the question of costs is critical! Our project will seek to document
"cost-effective" waste reduction record-setters.
Marjorie asks: "how much do successful waste prevention,
recycling, and composting programs cost (in the aggregate, per ton, and per
capita) and how much waste is prevented, recycled and composted. How much