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[GreenYes] Recycling Article in Wall Street Journal


High Cost of Compliance Prompts
Some Cities to Dump Parts of Plans

"WASHINGTON -- The fizz has gone out of the recycling business.
For the first time in more than 20 years, Americans are throwing away more
aluminum cans than they recycle . Environmental groups and industry groups
alike see it as an ill omen for the rest of the recycling business because
aluminum soft-drink and beer cans are the single most valuable consumer
commodity being recycled .

"While polls show Americans overwhelmingly support recycling , the data show
they are doing it less than they did in the early 1990s. "People are just
too busy," says Jennifer Gitlitz, research director for the Container
Recycling Institute, a nonprofit group here that is releasing the recycling
data Tuesday.
Statistics compiled by the National Soft Drink Association also show
consumers wasting more glass and plastic bottles -- even though municipal
recycling programs now serve 140 million people, triple the 1990 number.

"What's going on? Robin King, a vice president of the Aluminum Association,
blames the economic boom of the late 1990s. "Historically, good economies
don't encourage recycling ," he says. Low scrap values, he adds, are forcing
budget-strapped cities to reach a "decision point" about whether to trash
some of the items they collect in curbside recycling bags and boxes. The
industry suspects that some of the material collected by municipal recycling
programs actually ends up in landfills.


And more cans are emptied away from home, Ms. Gitlitz says. Americans tend
to recycle more at home than at the office or on the road. Last year, 49% of
the aluminum cans sold in the U.S. were recycled ; a decade earlier, 60%

The decline of recycling has registered in widely differing places. Mayor
Michael Bloomberg told New Yorkers last month that the city would stop
picking up plastic and glass. "The fact of the matter," he told reporters,
"was that it was phenomenally expensive, and most of it ended up being
dumped in a landfill anyway."

Ford Schumann runs a small recycling business in Chestertown, on Maryland's
Eastern Shore. He is seeing a lot fewer school groups, hikers and small bar
owners who used to bring him loads of cans: "Some of them say it's just not
worth it anymore." While the price of aluminum scrap has dropped to 20 cents
a pound from 60 cents, the amount of aluminum in each can, he explains, has
dropped by almost half, forcing scavengers to collect as many as six times
the amount of cans to get the reward they used to get.

While he continues to run a curbside operation that also collects glass,
plastic and paper, Mr. Schumann says he can understand why some cities and
private trash haulers now treat it all as garbage. "When the price gets this
low, it's an easy way to improve their bottom line."
But even in states with container-deposit laws, recycling rates for the
bellwether cans are declining. For example, in Michigan, which requires a
10-cent deposit, more than 90% of aluminum cans are returned. But even there
and in other states -- which charge an average five-cent deposit --
recycling rates for the bellwether cans are declining.
"If there ever was a commodity that begged for recycling , it's aluminum,"
says Allen Hershkowitz, a recycling expert for the Natural Resources Defense
Council. Because it takes a lot of electricity to make aluminum, the latent
energy savings alone in the 760,000 tons of aluminum cans trashed last year,
according to the Container Recycling Institute, could light up Chicago,
Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco and Seattle for a year.
Under the current system, Mr. Hershkowitz says, cities pay the costs of
recycling , but don't necessarily get the rewards, such as cleaner air,
lower-cost electricity or a reduced burden on landfills. He thinks the
answer is a new federal law, proposed by Sen. James M. Jeffords (I., Vt.),
who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. A measure that
committee will take up this week would set a national refundable deposit of
10 cents on a beverage container and require producers to reach an 80%
recycling rate.
The beverage industry, which lobbies against what it calls "forced deposit"
laws wherever they are proposed, is gearing up to fight. Richard F. Keating,
a vice president of Anheuser-Busch Cos., asserts the national deposit will
further undermine municipal programs by depriving them of aluminum cans,
their most valuable commodity. Rather than putting them in the curbside
containers, he asserts, consumers will take them back to the store to
collect the deposit.
Mr. Keating argues that voluntary recycling programs are best. "Congress has
consistently rejected this proposal, and we are confident they will do so

Write to John J. Fialka at
Updated July 9, 2002
Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
Ph:    (608) 231-1100
Fax:   (608) 233-0011
Cell:   (608) 345-0381

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