[GRRN] Washington Post Recycling Story

From: Bill Sheehan (bill_sheehan@mindspring.com)
Date: Wed Jan 05 2000 - 11:07:39 EST

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    By William Booth
    Washington Post
    January 5, 2000; Page A3

    Even though many like Judy Tavares recycle,
    Massachusetts fell short of its goal to reuse 46 percent of
    all disposable waste annually by the year 2000. (AP)

    LOS ANGELES - After years of rapid growth, the
    nation's recycling rate appears to be leveling off as many
    states and municipalities find it hard to achieve their most
    ambitious goals for the diversion of garbage.

    In 1980, about 10 percent of the municipal solid waste
    stream was diverted to recycling. By 1990, the figure had
    grown to about 16 percent.

    >From 1996 to 1998, the last year for which numbers are
    available, the rate climbed from 27.4 percent to 28.8
    percent. The recycling effort is about evenly split
    between individuals and businesses.

    "The problem with increasing the recycling rate is that
    we've gotten the most easy-to-get stuff already. We're
    pulling out the corrugated boxes, the newspapers, the
    aluminum cans. Much of the garbage that is left is either
    hard to recycle or not worth the effort. Do you want to
    recycle hot dog wrappers? Kitty litter? You could do it,
    but at what cost?" said J. Winston Porter, president of the
    Waste Policy Center and the EPA official who in 1988
    set the national goal of recycling 25 percent of our
    garbage, which was met in 1995.

    Today, about 136 million people, or about 51 percent of
    the U.S. population, have embraced curbside recycling
    programs, transforming in a few decades a throwaway
    postwar culture of profligate "wasters" into a population
    that by and large has agreed to separate its cans, bottles
    and newspapers before hauling out the trash.

    Porter points out that recycling has its costs, "both in
    dollars and in terms of the environmental costs. When
    you recycle something, particularly something that is not
    worth any money to anyone, you pay to recycle. You also
    pay environmental costs, such as transportation, energy
    consumption and some pollution."

    On average nationally, it may cost about $50 to tip a ton
    of garbage into a landfill, while recycling materials costs
    about $100 a ton.

    Porter and others think that the nation will reach a goal of
    recycling in which about one-third of the garbage we
    produce is diverted to other uses instead of ending up in a

    The EPA has quietly set a goal of 35 percent by 2005,
    when each person in the United States should generate no
    more than 4.3 pounds of solid waste daily.

    "The nation appears to be on track to meet that goal,"
    according to the independent consultants Franklin
    Associates of Prairie Village, Kan., which keeps track of
    trash for the EPA. "But it will take continued
    commitment from business, industry, government and the
    public to do so."

    Ten years ago, most states and many municipalities set
    recycling goals. Many of the goals were ambitious, with a
    dozen states hoping to recycle 50 percent of their
    municipal solid waste by the year 2000. Most states have
    failed to reach their goals, though many municipalities
    have done so.

    New York and California, two of the nation's biggest
    producers of garbage, set the bar at 50 percent by 2000,
    and neither will make it. California has the strictest
    requirements written into law, allowing slackers to be
    fined as much as $10,000 a day. But so far, no California
    cities have been fined, and they may never be because
    extensions may be granted out until the year 2006.

    An Associated Press review of reports filed to the
    California Integrated Waste Management Board found
    that of 431 jurisdictions that reported to the state, only
    about 25 percent had met the 50 percent goal by 1998, the
    last year on record.

    "We are making incredible strides in California, but we
    are not there yet," said Steven Jones, a member of the
    Integrated Waste Management Board.

    Jones, however, is not ready to support a rollback of the
    goal. "We've built the infrastructure to do it. Businesses
    have embraced it and its good for their bottom line. I
    think we'll get there."

    Mark Murray, executive director of the trash watchdog
    group Californians Against Waste, says that recycling has
    produced "this phenomenal transformation" of society in
    a very short time.

    "In California, hundreds of cities are at or near 50 percent
    recycling, and these are not just the places you'd expect,
    like Berkeley, Arcata or Davis, but San Jose, Los Angeles
    and San Diego," Murray said. "We've proven that it can
    be done."

    There does appear to be some deep desire among many
    citizens to support recycling and to actually do it
    themselves, to pluck their cans and bottles from the waste
    stream and place them in their color-coded plastic
    curbside receptacles for weekly pickup.

    Many trash experts believe the reason for the urge to
    recycle is not regulators pawing through trash and
    threatening fines, but that for many ordinary Americans
    recycling seems to be a tangible thing they can do to help
    the environment.

    There appears to be a deeply embedded uneasiness in our
    culture about throwing away junk that can be reused.
    Perhaps, in part, it is guilt about consumption. Perhaps it
    also feels unnatural. Mother Nature doesn't throw stuff
    away. Dead trees, birds, beetles and elephants are pretty
    quickly recycled by the system.

    Many people may feel they cannot do much about global
    warming or the rain forests, but they do know they can
    put an aluminum can in the recycling bin, Murray said,
    "and I am hard pressed to think of any sort of resource
    conservation that has such a tangible effect."

    The recycling craze really began in this country in 1987,
    when a garbage barge named the Mobro 4000 began
    wandering around the oceans looking for a place to dump
    a load of Long Island trash. The news media and
    environmentalists quickly concluded that there was a
    shortage of landfill space and that the answer was to
    divert garbage from burial in holes in the ground and

    In retrospect, however, the "landfill crisis" appears to
    have been regional, and somewhat overblown. Land for
    municipal dumps is scarce around some cities in the
    Northeast, but plentiful elsewhere.

    While there were about 18,000 landfills in 1975, there are
    about 2,300 today. Many are "superdumps," taking in
    more than 500 tons of waste a day. A lot of garbage today
    travels several hundred miles to reach its final resting

    What will the future of recycling hold?

    It is clear that many municipalities will reach the EPA's
    35 percent goal, and that real dedication will push others
    to 50 percent - and beyond. Some advocates, in fact, such
    as the Grassroots Recycling Network based in Athens,
    Ga., have begun to talk about "zero waste."

    But other experts, such as Porter, the former EPA official,
    are skeptical. "I think its fairly remarkable what we've
    done," he said. "But the problem with shooting too high
    may be that it discourages people. You know, for some
    people, recycling is their whole life. But I don't know that
    many people like that." ###

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