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[greenyes] RE: Env Benefits of Recycling
But if we're talking about a system where glass is all disposed all the time
versus a system with an 80% glass recycling rate, then the difference in
energy and environmental benefits of a glass container over its life cycle
is indeed five times greater than the benefits from just recycling that
glass container (or a ton of cullet) once.  That's what I understood the
debate to be about on This American Life - whether glass recycling is worth
it.  The difference in life cycle energy and environmental benefits between
the dispose-all-glass-all-the-time waste management system and the
recycle-glass-at-80% waste management system is 5 times greater then the
numbers that were discussed on This American Life, because those were the
benefits from recycling a glass container or a ton of cullet just once.  The
disposal-all-glass-all-the-time system throws away 5 times as much in energy
and environmental benefits versus the 80% recycling system.

-----Original Message-----
From: Reindl, John [mailto:Reindl@no.address]
Sent: Tuesday, November 04, 2003 3:12 PM
To: greenyes@no.address
Subject: Env Benefits of Recycling

While I hate to do it, I must disagree with the analysis below that the
recycling of a product at an 80% rate means multiplying the benefits of
recycling the bottle each individual time by 5.

The problem is not the math formula, with which I agree. A product that is
recycled at an 80% rate would indeed have an average use/reuse rate of 5
times before it is discarded. And in deposit states where 95% of the
aluminum beverage cans are returned, the rate for aluminum cans is 20 times.

But the environment benefits don't get multiplied by 5; the benefits only
occur once each time the material is recycled. (Mathematically, the benefits
that sum to 5 would need to be divided by the number of uses, which is also

And to the best of my knowledge, the energy and pollution prevention
benefits of recycling cullet from a glass bottle that is 100% virgin
material is exactly the same as the benefits of recycling cullet from a
bottle that has recycled content in it.

Glass is a marvelous product, but I don't believe that to give it (or
aluminum cans or newspapers or plastic bottles, etc) a multiplier effect
based on the recycling rate is mathematically correct.

John Reindl, Recycling Manager
Dane County, WI

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jeffrey Morris [mailto:jeff.morris@no.address]
> Sent: Monday, November 03, 2003 9:28 PM
> To: Susan Hubbard; web@no.address; greenyes@no.address;
> radio@no.address;
> kagosta@no.address
> Subject: [greenyes] RE: This American Life
> Susan and all,
> One factor that almost always gets overlooked about recycling glass
> containers back into glass containers is the infinite stream of benefits
> that a glass recycling system creates.  I'm indebted to Steve Apotheker at
> Portland Metro for first asking me this question.
> Here's the real deal.  In a container deposit state suppose 80% of glass
> containers get recycled back into new recycled-content glass containers
> during a year.  That means that in the next year 80% of those 80%
> recycled-content containers get recycled back into new recycled-content
> glass containers.  And so on.  Those of you that dabble in mathematics or
> statistics will realize that this infinite series of recycling means that
> 1/(1-.8) -1 = 4 recycled-content containers get manufactured from each
> container originally sold if 80% of them are returned in the deposit
> (You can use any percentage you want in this formula, so it can be applied
> to a non-deposit state or city or county as well.)  That means that those
> energy savings and pollution prevention formulae for a ton of recycled
> need to be multiplied by 5, which makes glass recycling much heftier in
> terms of environmental benefits from energy savings and pollution
> than those numbers discussed on This American Life.
> Conclusion: Glass has substantial benefits because each glass bottle that
> recycled spawns an infinite stream of additional recycling and
> an infinite stream of avoided energy consumption and avoided environmental
> damage that would otherwise occur from using virgin materials and energy
> sources to make virgin-content glass containers to replace those glass
> containers that are disposed in the landfill or incinerator.
> Jeffrey Morris, Ph.D.
> Economist
> Sound Resource Management - Durham
> 3206A Myra Street
> Durham, NC 27707
> WA: 360-319-2391
> NC: 919-403-1406
> jeff.morris@no.address

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