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[GreenYes] Is MSW recycling the best policy?


All,

In the interest of opening up what has the potential to be an
enlightening and healthy discussion I am curious as to the various
perspectives people may have on the following cited peer-reviewed
article's assertion that the goal of MSW recycling (presumedly that of
the US) should not be to increase MSW recycling but rather to increase
environmental quality and the sustainability of the economy" and that
"from a review of the existing economic experience with recycling and an
analysis of the environmental benefits (including estimation of external
social costs)... for most communities, curbside recycling is only
justifiable for some postconsumer waste, such as aluminum and other
metals."

The authors say that, "curbside recycling of postconsumer metals can
save money and improve environmental quality if the collection, sorting,
and recovery processes are efficient" and that "curbside collection of
glass and paper is unlikely to help the environment and sustainability
save in special circumstances."

The authors go on to suggest that deposit/refund schemes might be
advantageous but that "if consumers make a special trip to return
recoverable materials, the energy required is likely to exceed the
energy saved by recovery." In addition, that significant benefits might
be accrued in product takeback schemes.

Best Regards,
Stephan


Lave, L.B., Hendrickson, C.T., Conway-Schempf, N.M., McMichael, F.C.,
1999. Municipal solid waste recycling issues. Journal of Environmental
Engineering 125(10): 944-949.

*Abstract:*
Municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling targets have been set nationally
and in many states. Unfortunately, the definitions of recycling, rates
of recycling, and the appropriate components of MSW vary. MSW recycling
has been found to be costly for most municipalities compared to landfill
disposal. MSW recycling policy should be determined by the cost to the
community and to society more generally. In particular, recycling is a
good policy only if environmental impacts and the resources used to
collect, sort, and recycle a material are less than the environmental
impacts and resources needed to provide equivalent virgin material plus
the resources needed to dispose of the postconsumer material safely.
From a review of the existing economic experience with recycling and an
analysis of the environmental benefits (including estimation of external
social costs), we find that, for most communities, curbside recycling is
only justifiable for some postconsumer waste, such as aluminum and other
metals. We argue that alternatives to curbside recycling collection
should be explored, including product takeback for products with a toxic
content (such as batteries) or product redesign to permit more effective
product remanufacture.


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