RE: Recycling in an Era of Waste Consolidation

Lacaze, Skip (
Tue, 4 May 1999 18:58:00 -0700

Mr. Mittelstaedt's statement, as quoted in Waste News, is not just
poor analysis, it is almost the opposite of the truth. The "recycling
industry" is _not_ subsidized by solid waste, or by the solid waste
industry. It is the collection of recyclable wastes, in most cases
by firms in the solid waste industry, that may be subsidized. That
"subsidy" may come from residential rate payers, as a higher fee
for an integrated program than would be required for a single-pass
collection and disposal system; it may come from fees assessed on
all waste generators, in which case some commercial generators
may be subsidizing some or all of the cost of residential recycling;
it may come from taxpayers or other sources of general fund
monies. One of the only important subsidies of a "recycling industry"
is the allocation in California of some unredeemed bottle deposits
to make payments to operators of redemption centers in super
market parking lots. The "old line" recyclers want this payment ended.

The traditional recycling industry buys materials, from curbside
recyclers and others, and sells it at a profit, if it can. The
of curbside recycling programs may have benefitted these firms
by increasing the supply of materials and driving down prices, or may
have hurt them for the same reasons, as new competitors have
entered the market. As both a bureaucrat and an activist I have
worked with and against many individuals from the recycling industry--
they are the most free-market-oriented people I have ever met.

Earlier in Mr. Mittelstaedt's interview, he is quoted as saying:
"Let's face it, in the 1970s and 1980s, you had garbage men running
big garbage companies. [Now] you're getting businessmen,
finance-oriented businessmen running public garbage companies."
It's interesting that Mr. Mittelstaedt's anti-recycling rhetoric is almost
exactly the same as that offered by every refuse hauler in the 70s
and 80s, from mom and pop operations with a couple of trucks, up
to the largest companies in California and the expanding national

Recycling is a service. It can be a part of an integrated waste
management service, or it can stand alone. Because of the economics
of collection systems and the materials market, some can work on
a stand-alone basis, where the individual generator sees a direct
benefit--some only work with a service fee that must be mandated or
built into the refuse collection fee, so that generators don't have the
easy option of "throwing it all away" to save a few dollars.

The same is true for many other pieces of the waste management
system. How many rate payers would decline to pay the additional
cost of a "sanitary landfill" if they had the choice of open dumping?
How many would choose the low-cost provider despite the fact that
his trucks leaked, and his workers had a high injury rate, and he
collected toxics for a little extra cash? How many would continue to
burn their waste in their own back yard? How many still do?

One of the decisions communities must make is how to provide for
the handling of their discarded materials. How many will decide to
go back to throwing it all away? To incineration? I don't think that it
will be very many. And I don't think that those that do go back to the
dump will be going anywhere else at all.

From: RecycleWorlds
To: EnviroLink; GreenYes
Subject: Recycling in an Era of Waste Consolidation
Date: Tuesday, May 04, 1999 3:07PM

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


"'I think what ma[n]y 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


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.
Peter Anderson
RecycleWorlds Consulting