Dan's comments below seem a very good summary of the overall situation as
I understand it.
Adding a thought: We are seeing a big push to revive the garbage
burner industry, heavily supported by the federal and some state
governments under the guise of "global warming" and carbon
emissions. There seems to be a well-coordinated effort with the
dumpers--often the same corporations--under the guise of "integrated
waste management." It is a sophisticated effort and calls for
an equally broad and clear opposition. Sometimes, with all respect,
I have trouble not questioning the motives of those offering diversionary
squabbles on this list.
At 01:36 PM 7/21/2007 -0700, Dan Knapp wrote:
This is a reply to all who have
posted so far on this important issue.
I am an operator of a materials recovery enterprise that regularly
competes with wasting industries for what they sometimes regard as
"their" supply of materials. Wasting industries are
manufacturing specialists that turn resources into wastes which they then
dispose of by burying them in permitted airspace (landfill). They are
granted the exclusive use of this permitted airspace by governments in
return for providing various mitigations and accepting limited
liabilities. Wasting industries are fewer and bigger than they used to
be, but the number of landfills they control is diminishing.
Nevertheless, they want as close to 100% of the discard supply to go to
landfills as possible, partly because they are used to profit margins for
wasting resources that are routinely guaranteed by government never to
fall below a floor of about 15%.
This structure was undertaken in the name of sanitation, but leaky
landfills and air pollution from garbage burners have undercut the
legitimacy of this claim. Also, landfills are extremely unpopular new
uses for any property anywhere.
In contrast to the wasters, I want to conserve that same discard supply,
or at least as much of it as my company can. I want to trade, upgrade,
and sort it, then sell it on to someone who will use it and care for it.
My primary business is reuse, and if something can't be reused, my
employees have become pretty adept at recycling it. It's very rare for
businesses that conserve rather than waste to enjoy guaranteed profits,
and mine certainly does not. That is why many of us call fiscal practices
like free or cheap landfilling a subsidy for wasting.
We do quite a bit of "diversion" but we're a small company, and
fortunately we are not alone. In fact, we're part of a recycling
infrastructure that is already the size of the US auto industry,
according to the USEPA (2003). And we're growing fast and aggressively in
response to genuine business opportunities. Using the 2003 figures, we're
about five times the size of the waste industry in cash turnover. Not
That's why I agree with Dr. Jeff Morris when he says the short answer to
the long question posed by Mr. Pollard is "yes."
We MREs are growing at the expense of the waste industry, which is why we
are now seeing worldwide an upsurge in highly sophisticated government
and private sector interventions to protect wasting's diminishing share
of the disposal marketplace. From an operator perspective, the short
answer to Mr Pollard is: if it weren't cost-effective, reuse, recycling,
and composting wouldn't be happening on such a large scale.
Other listserve posters are correct that disposal service pricing
stimulates and leads to high recycling rates. But ideological blinders
aside, everyone should know that disposal is a competitive service right
now, and applying full-cost accounting procedures is an accelerant. Every
ton of "diversion" my company does is also a ton of stuff that
has been "disposed of safely," to use Mr. Pollard's
terminology. If I can dispose of something more cheaply by reusing or
recycling it rather than wasting it, then discard suppliers are going to
bring their stuff to me.
The most important price of all is the default price for wasting. It
should be high, reflecting the actual value of permitted airspace as a
scarce and diminishing resource. Permitted airspace for landfilling
should be very precious; using it should be costly.
Think-tanky arguments that landfilling is good for the environment are
specious. The landfill-as-energy-source "option" is already
burning a nasty brew of toxic gases along with any methane it captures,
because landfill fumes are a lot more than methane. Beware to those
Unfortunately, making landfilling free, or hiding its costs in the tax
system of government, is still How Things Must Be Done in many
localities. But not where I live, thank goodness. In our part of
California right now, the going rate for wasting is $100 per ton. At that
rate, lots of different forms of recycling are quite cost-effective. More
importantly, they are cost-competitive.
I am indebted to Mr. Pollard for establishing a connection between the
radical EPR-ites and the wasting industries. It's the first I've been
able to document, and it appears a couple of times in his email. The
radical EPR-ites hold that recycling is unnecessary, a failure, and a
prop to wasting, and should be abandoned in favor of a combination of
Extended Producer Responsibility, Product Redesign, Design for Reuse, and
(For the record, I'm in favor of EPR, just not EPR uber alles.)
In this context it is telling that Mr. Pollard floats the idea of somehow
summarily ending collection of bottles at curbside and spending the
dollars saved instead on "programs targeted to the diversion or
perhaps elimination of high-risk products." Why get rid of glass
collection? Because the waste industry's preferred method for recycling
has been a huge move away from proven source separation into a much more
risky investment. Overall they've changed to a single-stream collection
system where all sorts of unlike resources get mixed up just as they used
to before recycling caught on. The cost, however, because of the rough
handling and deliberate contamination at the source, is extreme
downstream contamination for the paper fraction, (and perhaps other
fractions) leading to what must be high operating costs for the MRF
operator due to rejected loads from paper brokers and having access only
to lower-paying overseas markets that can find and eliminate the
contaminants using near-slave labor. Glass is the main culprit for this
contamination, and it is extremely destructive to papermaking if not
caught. Having said this, certainly there are other sharp sources in MSW
that could contaminate paper and other feedstocks. Still, getting the
glass out by banning it from single-stream recycling collection would be
a big plus for the single-streamers. Then use the "money saved"
on eliminating "high-risk" products through take-back and other
schemes: very EPR.
Yours for less solid waste management and more materials recovery
Dan Knapp, Ph.D.
Urban Ore, Inc.
A reuse and recycling company in Berkeley California since 1980
On Jul 21, 2007, at 10:40 AM, Pete Pasterz wrote:
It depends on the COSTS
you're comparing. Are the long term human and ecosystem health effects of
landfill disposal fully costed?? LCAs are expensive; I have yet to see an
LCA which has not been funded by a well heeled vested interest. I have
yet to see an LCA which includes TRUE COST accounting.
From what I've been able to gather so far, Dr. Mort Barlaz at NC State
[I wonder if he drives a Prius, or rides his bike to campus, since gas
savings are important to him???] in my new home state of NC seems to have
a pro-landfill bias; I'll look a the full studies you've cited, but I
will NOT be surprised to find missing elements of Environmental cost, or
for assumptions which have no scientifically supported grounding [i.e.
75% or 100% of LF GHGs being recovered], just like in all the others I've
mailto:GreenYes@no.address] On Behalf Of Stephan
Sent: Saturday, July 21, 2007 11:03 AM
Cc: Jeffrey Morris
Subject: [text][bayes][heur] [GreenYes] Re: Dubner's interview on
Good Morning America
I presume we're talking about he U.S.
Are you suggesting that no matter where you go (in the U.S.), no matter
the time, no matter the mix of the plethora of factors/variables
including the attributes of the recycling collection program or the
differences of the recyclable content from waste stream to waste stream
or simply what it takes to recycle or compost, for each commodity
collected for recycling and composting, that the benefits outweigh the
To repeat parts of a post made to this group on 9/26/06 RE: Informed
Solid Waste Management...LCA is an analytical tool that examines the
often complex environmental impact of a product, process, or service.
Information returned from LCAs can be used as an important input to
informed solid waste decision-making...decision-making that should
incorporate periodic reassessment. Such reassessment includes, for
example, measurement of the efficacy of diversion programs at the
material/commodity level. Depending on ever-changing circumstances,
halting the diversion of glass bottles and jars in favor of spending the
saved money on programs targeting the diversion or perhaps elimination of
high-risk products might be an indicated course of action. Given the more
than appreciable expense of curbside collection of recyclables, a dollar
spent on the collection of glass, paper, or PET might be better spent
elsewhere, perhaps on drop-off or deposit programs or take-back schemes
as has been suggested (Lave et al., 1999; Barlaz et al., 2003). As Barlaz
et al. (2003) point out, saving gasoline has a lot more potential to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions than does PET recycling.
It is important to note that failure to consider that the rarely-static
mix of circumstances/management techniques/parameters/inputs differ
between locations could result in suboptimal or worse-than-before
solutions when applying LCA results in a cookie-cutter fashion.
Additionally, not all LCAs are created equal. Some are more accurate
and(or) thorough in their consideration of input parameters and
externalities than others. Quantifying tangible and intangible social
benefits and costs can be very difficult. Concerning the input data and
the quality of the LCA, the old adage (and pardon the pun) "Garbage
In Garbage Out" certainly applies.
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.
- 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.
Barlaz, M.A, Cekander, G.C., Vasuki, N.C., 2003. Integrated solid waste
management in the United States. Journal of Environmental Engineering
Jeffrey Morris wrote:
Re: Stephan Dubner's interview on
Good Morning America, we (Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon and the
Carnegie Mellon Economic Input Output-Life Cycle Assessment model online
at eiolca.net, Frank Ackerman of Tufts and author of Why do We Recycle
and co-author of Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the
Value of Nothing, and myself) have developed the Consumer Environmental
Index (CEI) that measures and tracks the climate change, human toxics and
ecosystem toxics impacts of consumer expenditures each year - from
resource extraction to production to retail sale and consumer use and
through to end-of-life management of discards. The short answer to
Stephan Dubner - recycling and composting a household's discards (paper,
glass/metal/plastic containers, yard debris and food scraps) is
equivalent to reducing consumption of vehicle fuels, motor oils and
repairs by 25% through using mass transit to commute to work frequently
enough to attain that 25% reduction.
So the environmental benefit of
recycling and composting is enormous, even though we sometimes have to
pay more to recycle than we do to throw discards in the garbage. The
reason that economics and environment are often at odds - emissions to
air, water and land of pollutants is typically free, i.e, free disposal
of these toxic and climate changing wastes, so the profit or cost/benefit
bottom line driven household or business or governmental or non-profit
agency saves dollars by throwing things away. The fact that polluting and
wasting is mostly free is at the heart of why we have such a difficult
time finding ways to make recycling compete economically with
You can see a quick description of
the CEI at our website
www.zerowaste.com and download
the presentation slides that Scott and I used when we unveiled the CEI
for Washington State at the Washington State Department of Ecology on
July 9. There's also a report that you can download if you want more
The Economist on June 7th ran
an article in their print edition on recycling -- The Truth About
Recycling -- that came to the opposite conclusion from Dubner. The
Economist is not known for being a liberal rag so that's another good
source to point to for the opposite conclusion.
Jeffrey Morris, Ph.D.-Economics
Sound Resource Management
2217 60th Lane NW
Olympia, WA 98502-0903
E-mail correspondence to and from this address may be subject to the
North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third