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[greenyes] Health of Recycling Programs

I would like to suggest that besides the normal economic calculations that
go into defining a "healthy" recycling program, that people also put some
emphasis on the amount of environmental benefit that can be garnered.

I would also suggest that we put more emphasis on the waste reduction and
recovery of those products that produce the most environmental gain.

John Reindl, Recycling Manager
Dane County, WI

> Peter has eloquently described the problem. It is not the quantity of
> curbside or other recycling programs that is of concern, but rather the
> quality of the materials collected. The health of recycling should not be
> measured by the number of programs but rather by the recycling rates for
> variuos materials, and the quantity and quality of the
> materials recovered.
> ****************************************
> Patricia Franklin
> Executive Director
> Container Recycling Institute
> 1911 N. Fort Myer Drive, Ste. 702
> Arlington, VA 22209
> TEL: 703.276.9800
> FAX: 703.276.9587
> EMAIL: pfranklin@no.address
> ****************************************
> -----Original Message-----
> From: RecycleWorlds [mailto:anderson@no.address]
> Sent: Thursday, May 20, 2004 3:32 AM
> To: GreenYes
> Subject: [greenyes] Economic Pressures on Recycling Programs
> Wayne observes that:
> "...There have been numerous debates about the overall
> health and vitality
> of recycling
> programs and what we can do to make them more efficient and
> effective to
> ensure their survival during budget crises. But it appears
> that even
> when our budgetary backs are against the wall, as has been
> the case in
> the last 2-3 years, local governments have not offered up recycling
> programs as sacrificial lambs; or else they have and the elected
> officials have chosen not to dismantle the programs. Whether it is
> bureaucratic protectionism, political realism or simply good program
> management that has allowed recycling programs to remain in
> place, it
> gives me hope that they have now become institutionalized ..."
> I am not as certain as Wayne that the gods smile down on
> us for two
> reasons:
> 1. I'm on the road this week and don't have access to my
> files. But,
> although Wayne hadn't gotten any responses to his query about
> threats to cut
> recycling programs other than the prominent mention of New
> York City, the
> facts are less rosy, albeit not entirely conclusive one way
> or the other.
> On the one hand, there are literally dozens of cities which have
> aggressively considered recycling curtailment, although, on
> the other hand,
> very few have actually which have actually gone forward in
> this cycle to
> formally end their curbside programs. Essentially, it appears that the
> intense pressure that began to arise for awhile never reached
> the boiling
> point because we lucked out this time in terms of macro
> economic conditions
> not of our making. The recession ended and recovery began and
> strong export
> markets insured that we didn't have a commodity cycle trough,
> pulling our
> bacon out of the fire just in time.
> 2. But, I am very concerned that we may miss what may
> really be going
> down in terms of our long term prognosis if we draw a breadth
> of relief from
> having largely escaped the Grim Reaper this time. I say this
> because the
> residue of these threats is continuing pressure to bring
> costs down as the
> price of keeping recycling going. If those cost pressures
> were levened by an
> insistence that cost cutting not significantly impact performance, I
> wouldn't mind, but that is not what is happening in many
> cases. That is to
> say, cost savings are being implemented without even setting up the
> mechanisms to measure deterioration in performance,
> nonetheless triggers to
> restore programs changes if the follow on shows recovery falters.
> That has created a climate in which a very substantial
> number of public
> works departments are willing to consider the new shape of recycling
> proposed by Waste Management, a company whose interests,
> albeit legitimate,
> are diametrically opposed to increased recovery, which threatens their
> monopoly power built on tight landfill supplies.
> That entails biweekly collection and single stream collection w/o
> enforceable restrictions on increased residue and
> downgrading. The most
> recent studies by Sound Resources shows biweekly collection reduced
> diversion by about 240 pounds per household per year in King County,
> Washington, if memory serves, and then, Lisa has older data
> on that problem
> too. Now I hasten to add that there certainly can be cases where well
> designed efforts in the right setting can make bi-weekly
> work, but that is
> not what is happening today, where many programs are moving
> to biweekly
> without testing and evaluation to insure it does not get
> rolled out if it
> doesn't produce substantially equivalent recovery.
> It also entails unchecked single stream (SS) processing
> without limits
> on increases in residues. Again, that is not to say that SS is never
> appropriate, but only that its propensity for abuse demands
> strict controls.
> A GAA study found residues close to 30%, I recall, if one
> does not count as
> recycling sending crushed unusable glass back to the landfill as daily
> cover.
> I am aware that attempts to paper over this problem with
> claims that SS
> is good because it increases recovery. But that is based upon highly
> deceptive and demonstrably untrue claims that do not do
> credit to their
> proponents' credibility. I say this because the showings
> omit to mention
> that the changeover to SS was also accompanied by a
> conversion from 3 bins
> to carts. Controlled tests in St.Paul -- the only controlled tests, I
> should add -- show that it is the carts (which can be added
> to almost any
> program w/o going to SS) that increase diversion, not SS.
> People do prefer
> wheeled covered carts to three uncovered bins. But, that has
> nothing to do
> with single stream. Indeed in that St. Paul study, dual stream carts
> achieved, if memory serves, about 30% better recovery than
> single stream
> carts.
> Quality declines at the MRF with SS will undoubtedly be
> mirrored in
> higher yield losses at the intermediate processors and end
> users, currently
> ranging from 10%-20% on average.
> Look at those numbers and put them all together. Look at
> the eroding
> recycling performance we have seen since 1997. The price of
> "improving" our
> economics may be substantial reductions in overall diversion, and our
> sending half of what we do separate back to the landfill,
> something that
> would be devasting to our public support were it highly
> publicized as we
> have to assume our dear friends at the Reason Foundation and
> NY Times will
> be tempted to do.
> Also, those export supported prices come at their own
> price, namely at
> the cost of decimating our domestic processing capacity,
> creating future
> vulnerabilities that may come back to haunt us.
> It is for these reasons that I believe our real economic payoff to
> sustain recycling -- and effective recycling -- lies not in imprudent
> chiseling away corrosively at our programs but in redoubling
> our efforts to
> insure that the present massive subsidies to our competition,
> landfilling,
> be eliminated. That would increase the cost of disposal to
> more than $60 per
> ton, compared to the typical cost today closer to $20/ton
> against which
> recycling, other than high grade paper and non-ferrous metals, cannot
> compete. Eliminating those grossly flawed rules would also
> require that the
> organic fraction -- 60% of what is landfilled today -- be
> kept out of the
> ground, and that could mean source separating food scraps and
> unrecycled
> paper for composting, which could bring our current 30%
> recovery over 75%.
> That is to say, zero waste (or at least something reasonably
> close to it)
> need not be a dream that we pass along to our children but a
> life-invigorating triumph that we include in our bequest.
> Nonethleless, Wayne, I do think that you have raised an excellent
> question for all of us to consider.
> I am not, however, nearly as sanguine about the future,
> as your note
> suggests.
> In any event, this issue definitely warrents more
> systematic evaluation.
> I look forward to hearing other analyses to consider.
> Peter
> ____________________________
> Peter Anderson
> 4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
> Madison, WI 53705
> (608) 231-1100 / Fax 233-0011
> anderson@no.address
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