[GRRN] CSM Anti-Recycling article

Gary Liss (gary@garyliss.com)
Tue, 09 Nov 1999 12:34:10

This is not a coincidence that the Betsy Hart article and this one came out
at the same time. I urge all local, state and national recycling
organizations to respond to both ASAP.

Gary Liss
Christian Science Monitor


Recycling revolution loses its fervor

California, the recycling
leader, will fall short of its
goal to cut landfill trash by 50

Daniel B. Wood
Staff writer of The Christian Science


It's a real-life repeat
of the candy-factory
scene from "I Love
Lucy," where Lucy and Ethel
have the impossible job of boxing
chocolates from an ever-faster
moving conveyor belt.

Here at the Burbank Recycle
Center, the conveyor carries a
torrent of trash while 17
attendants - wearing dust masks
and rubber gloves - pluck and
toss recyclable bottles, cans, and
paper into bins before the
remaining trash cascades into a

With 2000 just weeks away, the
state that led the American
parade to recycling is now racing
to meet what some see as
impossible goal - a mandated 50
percent reduction from 1990
levels of trash it sends to landfills.

Datty Echeveria (right) sorts paper
at the Burbank Recycling Center.
California, while doing better than
other states, is well below its 50
percent reduction goal.

In many ways, recycling is a
benchmark for America's
conservationist ethic, touching
everyday life through soda-bottle
refunds and blue curb-side
collection bins. California is in
fact doing better than the rest of
the nation, but the state's 33
percent reduction is far below its
ambitious goals.

A host of factors, including a
faster stream of trash generated
by a booming economy, are to
blame. But the shortfall here has
offered lessons for the national
recycling effort, and has also
ignited debate about how
California - and the country - can
regain lost momentum.

"California has changed the way
Americans in every state view
solid waste by leading the country
out of a one-way system of
putting trash in landfills," says Dan
Eaton, chairman of the California
Integrated Waste Management
Board. "What we've learned
about what does and doesn't
work and why is serving as the
groundwork for others."

The Golden State's landmark law
was passed in 1989 primarily
because California was running
out of landfill space. It required
every city and county to reduce
its waste 25 percent by 1995 and
50 percent by 2000.

At the time, the new law was held
up as a model, but
implementation ran into problems.
Rural communities needed
different programs from suburbs
or desert areas. Corporations not
covered by the law only
participated voluntarily. And the
public had to be educated, for
instance, about how to properly
answer: "paper or plastic?"

all solutions did
not work,"
says Mr.
Eaton. "Not
everything was
thought of that
needed to be,
and there was
a natural
unease over
the unknown."

The law was also underfunded,
which meant localities usually
passed on to residents costs for
curb-side pick-up and the
building of recycling facilities.
Then, a recession during the early
'90s meant most communities
were strapped for cash.

In this setting, the question of
defining which waste is covered
by law, as well as how to
measure a jurisdiction's
compliance, became difficult. "It
became totally time consuming
spending our time counting beans
rather than implementing new
programs," says Lisa Wood,
spokeswoman of the San Diego

Halting progress

Still, the state made progress. By
1995, 85 percent of California
districts were in compliance with
the law's halfway mark of 25
percent. But the resurgence of the
economy has produced an influx
authorities were not prepared for.

"The sheer ... volume has
contributed to a waste stream
equal to a 100-year flood," says

Today, two California
communities graphically illustrate
California's successes and

Here in Burbank, local authorities
passed a recycling program in
1982, well ahead of the rest of
the state. The city added a
state-of-the-art recycling facility
in 1991, and later quadrupled the
amount of recyclables collected
by allowing residents to mix
paper, glass, and plastic in
oversized bins left on the curb.

"We have reached a phenomenal
rate of recycling [about 62
percent] because of public
backing and commitment," says
Sylvia Glazer, the program's

Across town in West Covina,
recycling director Steve
Samaniego says his biggest
problem in reaching the 50
percent mandate is creating
public awareness. Beyond that,
he needs rules requiring that
construction contractors recycle
and use recyclable building

"When it comes down to votes
about these programs, I need to
let the public know when the vote
comes up and how it's going to
impact the community," says Mr.
Samaniego. "But first I need
public awareness to get the
money to create more

That awareness of what's being
done and what needs to be done
is a stumbling block nationwide,
experts say. In 1960, each
American threw away an average
of 2.5 pounds of refuse a day. In
1980, it rose to 3.3 pounds, in
1990 to 3.7 pounds, and in 1997
dropped to 3.2 pounds.

"While Americans are recycling
more and more, we are also
generating more [trash] so the
amount of land filling is not going
down nationally as we hoped,"
says Rick Best, policy director
for Californians Against Waste.

The cutting edge of efforts in
recycling these days, he says, is
getting manufacturers to cut the
amount of trash they generate,
and also to use more secondary
or recycled materials.

Despite falling short of its goal,
California's achievement of
cutting waste by 33 percent (the
national average is 28 percent) is
a testament to the strong 1989
law, observers say. The state
hasn't yet imposed fines on
localities, but the law authorizes
penalties up to $10,000 per day.

Other incentives

Some states are trying to create
other incentives as well.
Minnesota is considering a law
that will ban all dumping into
landfills. Indeed, "zero waste" has
become the buzz word for many
state activists, though legislation
to mandate the goal is not yet
forthcoming. Besides, say others,
the only way to make a real
impact is to attack the issue of
recycling on the federal level.

"It's difficult to craft rules on a
state-by-state basis," says Lynn
Landes, director of Zero Waste
America. "The waste and
recycling industry would have a
much better time of it complying
with one federal standard."
Gary Liss
Fax: 916-652-0485