[GRRN] Recycling Problems

From: RecycleWorlds (anderson@msn.fullfeed.com)
Date: Thu Jul 27 2000 - 12:01:23 EDT

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    12:02 PM ET 07/23/00
    Recycling Commitment May Be Fading
    Associated Press Writer=
               AMSTERDAM, N.Y. (AP) _ For Mayor John M. Duchessi Jr., the high
    cost of recycling was not as much a concern as the surprising
    notion that recyclables were being dumped in landfills and
    incinerators like trash.
               In response, Duchessi took a bold stand Jan. 1 by dropping his
    city's recycling program in defiance of a state lawsuit.
               It took six months of intense pressure from the state attorney
    general and the glare of a national media spotlight for the city to
    reinstitute its recycling program, albeit reluctantly. Nonetheless,
    Amsterdam seems to have made its point: The nation's commitment to
    recycling has waned.
               Cash-strapped cities, small and large, have been grumbling for
    years about mandatory curbside sorting. They complain about rising
    costs while market prices drop and a growing concern that
    recyclables are being dumped in landfills and incinerators like
               Amsterdam, a city of 19,000 located 30 miles northwest of
    Albany, was the first city in New York, and possibly the nation, to
    abandon recycling which was made mandatory statewide in 1988.
               By dropping its $180,000 recycling program, Duchessi said his
    city was simply admitting reality _ it couldn't be sure anything
    was being recycled.
               ``People don't like to wash and sort their recyclables only to
    see them dumped in the garbage truck,'' Duchessi said. ``My fear is
    that people would develop a disdain for recycling.''
               ``I'm not against recycling _ as long as it's recycling,'' he
               State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer acknowledges that
    recyclables are often carefully cleaned, bundled and sorted only to
    get mixed in with garbage. He plans to introduce legislation this
    year that would change that.
               But Spitzer had no intentions of allowing Amsterdam to trash a
    program that has changed the habits of most Americans since the
    first Earth Day three decades ago. His staff held closed-door
    meetings with city officials before his office filed a lawsuit in
    early June, not to exact fines, but to restore recycling.
               ``Amsterdam is the only municipality that turned its back on
    recycling,'' said Marc Violette, spokesman for Spitzer. ``We don't
    want other municipalities to violate the law.''
               But there have been reports, at least anecdotal, that
    increasingly the nation's recyclables are quietly ending up in
    landfills in recent years.
               Brian Taylor, editor of the industry magazine Recycling Today,
    said no one knows how much recyclable material is landfilled, but
    he believes it is a small percentage.
               Sponsors of a recycling bill signed into New York law only last
    week said they have been concerned by a slight reduction in
    recycling noted in 1998 by the state Department of Environmental
    Conservation. It was the first time in a decade that the tonnage of
    recyclables had decreased from the previous year.
               Neal Feldman of the Washington-based research Institute for
    Local Self-Reliance, said Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington and
    other large cities have seriously considered cutting back
               A public backlash, however, quickly restored the programs.
               Additionally, most often the cost of recycling is buried in
    municipal budgets, said Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource
    studies for the Cato Institute, a research center in Washington.
    ``You don't get much at the ballot box to say you're dismantling
    recycling, and it doesn't matter if it works.''
               In Amsterdam, the heavily pressured city council voted 3-2 in
    late June to sign a contract to resume recycling. But its point was
    already made.
               A 1996 state survey had found 68 percent of municipalities
    received complaints that recyclables were being trashed. With
    Amsterdam's defiance, the state seemed to be left little choice but
    to focus its attention on recycling.
               ``In many cases, those allegations are confirmed,'' Violette
               Judith Enck, an environmental director with the attorney
    general's office, said a resident called her office because he saw
    the recycling hauler dump sorted material into the garbage truck.
    The man said he couldn't get his town supervisor or a state agency
    to even call the hauler, Enck said.
               ``It's clear to us there's widespread public support (in
    households) for recycling. It's just become second nature,'' she
    said. ``We concede that communities often don't make money (from
    recycling), but there are other economic benefits and, besides,
    it's the law.''
               One of the problems with this local government recycling malaise
    is that in the early and mid-1990s there was a lot of money for
    recycling,'' Enck said.
               But a demand for recycled paper and cardboard in the Pacific has
    eased and prices have fluctuated, particularly in Washington state.
    Cardboard had sold to Pacific Rim markets for $90 a ton in 1996,
    but dropped to $20 a ton by early 1997. The price rebounded to $65
    a ton until roughly a month or two ago, then dropped again to $45 a
    ton, said Kip Eagles, recycling survey coordinator.
               ``The bottom just fell out of the cardboard market,'' he said.
               However, Enck insists that when governments consider the cost of
    precious landfill space, recycling pays.
               State figures showing a steady rise in recycling, which Enck
    said appears to be leveling off, are also suspect. When mandatory
    recycling began in New York, local governments did most of the
    collecting. Now the work is often contracted and those figures can
    reflect what is left at the curbs, not what is left at recycling
    plants for reuse.
               Still, New York can be proud of its recycling effort, which
    increased from claiming 3 percent of the waste stream in 1987 to 42
    percent in 1998, one of the best marks nationwide.
               In Amsterdam, which operates on a $17.05 million budget, the new
    recycling contract that will resume the program in August will cost
    almost $170,000 and the city may have to cancel its annual clean-up
    day in the fall to make up the cost. A new city law includes
    penalties for people and businesses that send recyclables to
               The city can also expect help: New York Gov. George Pataki
    signed into law a bill making between $2 million and $5 million
    available annually through the Environmental Protection Fund for
    recycling education programs and local recycling coordinators. The
    program requires localities to pay half of the costs to get
    matching state money.
               For the first time, according to David Higby of Environmental
    Advocates, the law will make a permanent source of money available
    to localities that want to hire municipal recycling coordinators.
               Duchessi, meanwhile, has no regrets for his city's unorthodox
               ``The fight has been worth it,'' he said. ``The public has shown
    it is willing to pay for curbside recycling _ realizing it's not
    revenue-neutral. In addition, I think we helped bring attention to
    the fact that recycling has changed.''
    Peter Anderson
    RecycleWorlds Consulting
    4513 Vernon Blvd. Ste. 15
    Madison, WI 53705-4964
    Phone:(608) 231-1100/Fax: (608) 233-0011

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