Re: [GRRN] Variances
Wed, 30 Jun 1999 16:56:02 EDT

As usual, Peter's thoughts are on the money and sufficiently provocative to
hopefully get a discussion going. I admit to having not been privy to Ric and
Janet's communications, so take all with a grain of sand.

On the question of market viability and relaxing/variancing recycling
requirements, it has always seemed from the municipality/collector/processing
side of the equation that there is a serious problem with the service cost
structure and the short-term way of thinking that most people have comparing
recycling costs to disposal. The best programs usually seem to recognize that
there is a cost to collection and processing that must be paid. Some also
seek to create a floating materials index whereby a municipality or
commercial establishment receives a portion of revenues when markets are good
and pays a fee when they are bad. Accounting systems obviously also need to
recognize avoided disposal costs if all the parties agree to a rational
pricing system.

It would seem, in theory at least, that where you have a rational pricing
system which allows full cost accounting along with reasonable competitive
service markets, recycling systems can work. That we currently have a
disposal glut in many parts of the country and a slowed global economy does
not mean that you turn off the spigot (sp?). Technology systems take years to
mature properly.

More to the point though, the tendency to compare recycling costs to disposal
costs seems to be a misguided carry-over from the "disposal crisis" days.
Recycling systems certainly have a cost. This cost may well be higher than we
want it to be. But the economics of recycling should be based on competitive
pricing, not external comparisons. It is one thing for newspaper to be
non-recyclable (dumped), it is another for it to simply not turn a hefty
profit so that processors don't need to charge for their services. I've run
the numbers on a lot of different municipal recovery programs and the
economics of collection tends to be the most costly component of most
programs. There are many, many different ways to overcome those costs. The
lack of 100% participation also completely skews any meaningful analysis. In
several large cities whose collection & processing systems I've modeled, it
was clear that participation levels was the single most important factor in
the overall system efficiency.

Modern recycling is one of the more complex techno-social phenomena to come
along in years. It doesn't need to be even more complex than it already is.

David Biddle