[GRRN] Recycling in an Era of Waste Consolidation

RecycleWorlds (anderson@msn.fullfeed.com)
Tue, 4 May 1999 17:07:07 -0500

According to an interview quoting Ron Mittelstaedt (Waste Connections
CEO) in the 5/3/99 issue of Waste News:

"'I see that recycling is rapidly losing its curb appeal to the
populace. And that it's still something that people would really like to
see and they want to do. But they are starting to understand that the
economics of it don't make it a very viable business.
"'You're seeing in many places recycling levels go backwards for the
first time,' he said. 'You're seeing entire cities abandon recycling
programs because they don't make economic sense any longer.
"'I think what may have predicted in the solid waste industry is that
there will come a day when the recycling industry will have to stand on its
own financially and no longer be subsidized by solid waste. That day is
"'I think the likes of USA taking control of Waste Management and
Allied taking control of BFI is going to make that eminently clear to the
public., and that I see as very good for the solid waste industry. Not good
for the recycling industry.'"

Before anyone, getting mad, picks up bricks and bats to throw at Ron, I
think that we first have to recognize that the source of the problem
lies -- to a not insignificant degree -- in ourselves.

That is to say, although in many traditional respects recycling
programs "don't make economic sense", they certainly could (putting aside
for the moment why recycling should be judged on making economic sense
rather than being a service that people pay for like police and libraries).

Four things could turn night into day --

(1) In order to prevent future groundwater contamination (which
so-called "dry tomb" Subtitle D landfills are designed to do), prohibit
landfilling of material which is not inert.

(2) Increase recycle collection payloads to improve collection
efficiency through such techniques as light compaction and, where feasible,
40 cu. yd. vehicles.

(3) Realign newsprint mill siting to use urban forest feedstock which
could pay as much as $110 per ton for ONP bales and still be competitive
with virgin producers located in remote forest areas.

(4) Convince consumer product manufacturers and paper producers to
design for recyclability.

Why haven't things like these happened in a pervasive way -- things
that would make it possible to have market driven diversion of more than
50-60% and, thereby, undermine the coming monopolization of the waste
business. It's because our industry has acted as if it has run out of gas
and failed to aggressively pursue the policy initiatives that will make
them possible.

This is not a question of policy intended to subvert the market. For
here is a classic case of market failure in which externalities in
production and in container/paper designs are lifted from those responsible
forced onto the backs of "host" communities and recyclers, and where
historic momentum has kept inefficient industry structures in place that
have lost their economic justification in today's realities.

Wise and limited policy intrusions are essential to produce a society
that the public wants, but which it cannot achieve acting and purchasing
individually. Only collective action can cure these defects.

For that happen, we need to infuse energy to recharge our industry. If
Ron's gauntlet accomplishes that, it will lead to something productive for
the next millenium.

Peter Anderson
RecycleWorlds Consulting
4513 Vernon Blvd. Ste. 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Phone:(608) 231-1100/Fax: (608) 233-0011