[GRRN] Seventh Generation review of W2K Report

From: Bill Sheehan (bill_sheehan@mindspring.com)
Date: Sat Aug 12 2000 - 10:16:19 EDT

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    [From Severnth Generation -
    Non-Toxic Times Vol. 1, No. 9

    Getting Wasted... A Fresh Look At The State Of
    The Art Of Recycling

    A Few Thoughts from Jeffrey Hollender, President

    Anybody remember recycling? Saving the planet
    bottle by bottle, it used to be all the rage. But you don't hear
    a lot about it these days. We're all still dutifully trundling
    our newspapers out to the curb, but we're not talking about
    it much anymore. Lately, I've been wondering just what our
    diminishing national focus on recycling means. Have we
    won the war on waste? Did we get so good at recycling that
    we don't need to think about it anymore? According to a
    new report from the Grassroots Recycling Network, the
    answer is yes. And also no.

    According to the report, Wasting and Recycling in
    the U.S. 2000 (or W2K ), we've come a long way. In the
    last 15 years, national recycling rates have reached 28%.
    That means we're close to recycling a third of all our waste.
    In many towns, the figure is over 50%. Since 1990, local
    recycling programs have more than tripled from 2,700 to
    9,300. Companies have joined the bandwagon too. Today,
    some are recycling almost 90% of their waste. Not too bad
    for a country that just a few years ago was quite content to
    throw it all away.

    This is great news. But the report is also quick to
    point out that after years of shrinking, our solid waste is
    gaining on us once again. For example, even though we're
    recycling more, manufacturers are making and packaging
    ever increasing amounts of products with plastic that either
    lacks any meaningful recycled content or is difficult to
    recycle. According to the W2K report, from 1990-1997,
    plastic packaging grew five times faster by weight than
    plastic recovered for recycling. When it comes to glass and
    aluminum, the story is similar. So even though you and I
    keep trying to recycle it all, it's getting harder and harder to
    keep up.

    Making products out of the things we recycle also
    remains a challenge. Strange though it seems, virgin
    materials are still cheaper than recycled materials. As
    someone whose life is dedicated to closing the loop, I've
    lost sleep over this one. We pay more to use recycled
    materials in our company's products. Why? Because hidden
    subsidies and a lack of true cost accounting keep the prices
    for virgin materials artificially low.

    For example, tax dollars pay for roads in National
    Forests that timber companies then use to harvest trees at
    what are essentially subsidized, below-market rates.
    National Forest taxpayer subsidies save forest companies
    over a billion dollars each year and keep virgin pulp prices
    lower than they should be. Mining companies are exempt
    from hazardous waste rules that would raise their costs and
    make recycled metal competitive. The real price of plastic
    manufacturing, which should include pollution and
    environmental degradation, never appears on the books. If
    manufacturers actually had to pay to clean up the mess they
    make making virgin plastic, they'd be screaming for
    recycled instead.

    In spite of the obstacles, I've never stopped believing
    in a zero waste society. Recycle everything. Landfill
    nothing. It's perfect. So perfect that you'd think the idea
    would have universal appeal in an economy so intensely
    focused on efficiency. What's not to love about recycling?
    It creates 10 jobs for every one job created at a landfill. It's
    better for the environment. It saves natural resources,
    conserves huge amounts of energy, closes landfills,
    prevents waste incineration, and results in much less air and
    water pollution. It helps prevent global warming. It
    improves public health. It's the mother of environmental

    There's a lot of useful information in the W2K report.
    Everyone should read it. Like any good story, it's got a
    meaningful moral: we've done a lot of recycling, but there's
    still more left to do. It's time for us to next step and create
    that culture of zero waste. It's the smart thing to do, the
    right thing to do, and the best thing to do. The only real
    question is why on Earth we would do anything else.

    To view portions of the W2K report, learn more
    about it, obtain a complete copy, or learn how you can give
    recycling an even bigger boost, I highly recommend a visit
    to the Grassroots Recycling Network web site at

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