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[GreenYes] NYC Recycling - WSJ Editorial and Reply
Wall Street Journal - March 19, 2002

Forced Recycling Is a Waste

As New York City faces the possibility of painful cuts to its police and
fire department budgets, environmentalists are bellyaching over garbage.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed budget for 2003 would temporarily suspend
the city's recycling of metal, glass and plastic, saving New Yorkers $57

The city's recycling program -- like many others around the country -- has
long hemorrhaged tax dollars. Every mayor has tried to stop the waste since
the program began in 1989, when local law 19 mandated the city to recycle
25% of its waste by 1994. "It is impossible to reach a mandated recycling
level," said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1996, "unless you take all the people
in New York, put them in prison, and force them to recycle."

Back in 1992, Mayor David Dinkins tried to suspend the program for a year,
but he continued to fund it when faced with an onslaught of criticism. Then
in 1994 the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Giuliani
administration for not meeting the law's mandate -- and won. Mr. Giuliani
was forced to bleed other parts of the budget to keep the program going.

City officials have tried to get around meeting the mandated rate by playing
with the books. Such tactics are common in just about every city and state
with mandated recycling rates. In New York, city officials counted recycling
of construction and demolition debris along with household waste in an
attempt to meet the required recycling rate. But in 1993 the court ruled
that those materials don't count. Currently, the city wants to count
asphalt, millings and dirt from lot cleaning operations. Including these
materials would inflate the rate from 17% to 23%, according to the city's
budget office.

Mr. Bloomberg wants to go a step further and end some recycling temporarily.
He points out that this program is not saving resources. The city spends
about $240 per ton to "recycle" plastic, glass, and metal, while the cost of
simply sending waste to landfills is about $130 per ton.

You don't need a degree in economics to see that something is wrong here.
Isn't recycling supposed to save money and resources? Some recycling does --
when driven by market forces. Private parties don't voluntarily recycle
unless they know it will save money, and, hence, resources. But forced
recycling can be a waste of both because recycling itself entails using
energy, water and labor to collect, sort, clean and process the materials.
There are also air emissions, traffic and wear on streets from the second
set of trucks prowling for recyclables. The bottom line is that most
mandated recycling hurts, not helps, the environment.

And despite all their efforts to recycle, much of what residents sort still
ends up in the landfill. The Department of Sanitation says that about 40% of
New York's glass, metal and plastic waste is not of suitable quality for
recycling, so it goes to the landfill. What's wrong with that?

Americans seem to think it's a sin to put trash in a landfill. New Yorkers
might think that all landfills are like Staten Island's Fresh Kills, but
that malodorous dump site was designed in a different era, when public
officials had different ideas about landfill design and without today's
Modern landfills are very different, as I discovered on a trip to a site in
Charles City County, Va., that takes Big Apple garbage. It was so hidden
that I got lost trying to find it. There were no smells and no visually
unattractive views. I asked the locals for directions, but nearly no one
knew it was even there. Finally, someone directed me to the entrance, which
I had passed several times. Once on site, I couldn't even see trash until
reaching the top of the landfill, where New
York City trash flowed down from a truck.

Despite protests from Virginia state officials, residents in communities
that host landfills want New York City trash because they receive revenue
from it. Virginia's seven regional landfills employ hundreds of residents, p
aying out millions in annual wages and bringing in more than $500 million
annually to the state. Landfill fees enabled Charles City County to build a
courthouse and a school, while cutting property taxes by about a third.

The risks posed by these landfills are next to zero. Using Environmental
Protection Agency data, one study found that 60% of the landfills in
existence in 1991 pose a minute cancer risks of one in 10 billion over a
70-year lifetime. More than 80% pose a risk of cancer of less than one in a
million -- a level equivalent to the risk of getting cancer from drinking a
half liter of wine or eating 40 tablespoons of peanut butter in a year's

"You could do a lot better things in the world with $57 million," says Mayor
Bloomberg. Like rebuilding from the greatest catastrophe ever to befall New
York. But first Mayor Bloomberg is going to have to battle the green lobby
to eliminate his city's wasteful recycyling program.
Ms. Logomasini is director of risk and environmental policy at the
Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Letter to Editor in Reply

To the Editor:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) argues that the alternative to
recycling, disposal, is not the bugaboo people fear because "[t]he risks
posed by landfills are next to zero"("Forced Recycling is a Waste," 3/19/02
WSJ). This is patently wrong, and the implications of the true facts waft
not only across the real economics of recycling, but also to those who live
near landfills as well as to the investors and taxpayers who will ultimately
pick up the multi-billion dollar tab for the long term financial liabilities
from today's depredations. For not only are the long-term risks of landfill
failures not zero, they approach 100%, according to EPA:

"Some have argued that [landfill] liners are devices that provide a
perpetual seal against any migration from a waste management unit. EPA has
concluded that the more reasonable that any liner will
[eventually] begin to leak ...and when it does, leachate will migrate out of
the facility."

Moreover, this household waste that will later contaminate our drinking
water is not "sanitary," as the law attempts to label garbage by ukase. In
fact, EPA states that field tests have "not reveal[ed] significant
differences in the number of toxic constituents and their concentrations in
the leachate" between ostensible sanitary and recognized hazardous wastes.

What we are bequeathing our grandchildren are not CEI's view of pristine
hideaways that pose no more risk than drinking "a half liter of wine in a
year's time," but more than 3,000 licensed Superfund sites in-the-making.
How could this tragedy have been set in motion when EPA technical staff
obviously understood the facts that undermine the entire regulatory fabric
undergirding today's disposal system against which recycling competes?
According to a scathing indictment by the EPA's Inspector General, political
appointees ignored those facts "based on a compromise of competing
interests...not based on specific scientific criteria or research studies."


Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
Ph:    (608) 231-1100
Fax:   (608) 233-0011
Cell:   (608) 345-0381

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