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[GreenYes] The Death of Recycling


There has not been as much discussion of this issue as I would have thought, so maybe these comments will elicit some more response.

I have been disappointed with the Zero Waste movement on several counts.

First, the emphasis has been on Zero Waste to landfills and incinerators, with an almost exclusive emphasis on recycling. There has been almost a recycling über alles attitude -- that it is the silver bullet to solve all our problems. Now I am seeing some touting manufacturers' responsibilityas the solution to implement Zero Waste.

As I have written on this list many times, I think that this approach can result in an increase in negative environmental impacts. I recommend that we work for minimizing total environmental impact as a method to increase the sustainability of materials management, and not limit ourselves to a few parts of the system or a few potential solutions.

Second, I have been disappointed with some of the promoters of the Zero Waste effort, especially in their rigidity in not evaluating any input from others. There seems to be a tacit assumption by some that all critiques are negative -- that their approach is beyond improvement.

In one particular situation, in a state other than mine, a proposal was put forward under the banner of Zero Waste for the collection of food scraps from household and businesses, with the material to be trucked to the municipal waste water treatment plant. I noted that a PhD on the relative impacts of a variety of food scrap handling approaches was done at the University of Wisconsin, and that the project proponents may want to both look at it and do an environmental analysis of their proposal. These suggestions were rebuffed and I was told that if I thought an environmental analysis was worthwhile, then I should find the funding for that aspect of their project. I was surprised by this reaction -- although we ask the business community to look at the environmental impacts of their projects, for some reason the proponents of this food recovery project believed that their project need not need similar review. It seemed to me then -- and in other contacts with other proponents of Zero Waste -- that most comments for improvement are rejected.

Having been in the solid waste field for over 35 years, I have seen many ideas come and go, including those that people thought at one time were true beyond doubt. I would hope that we would continue, as it says at our local university, to "sift and winnow" in the search for the truth, wherever it takes us, and to be comprehensive in this search.


John Reindl, Recycling Manager
Dane County, WI

From the 1894 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin:

"Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the Great State University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found"

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