GreenYes Archives

[GreenYes Archives] - [Thread Index] - [Date Index]
[Date Prev] - [Date Next] - [Thread Prev] - [Thread Next]

[greenyes] Recycling efforts dropping off--USA Today

Dear Greenyes friends,

I thought you might be interested in an article that appeared in today's USA
Today (p 3A) titled: "Recycling efforts dropping off: Matter of routine for
some seems to have become old news for others."

Full text of article can be viewed on-line at:

Recycling efforts dropping off: Matter of routine for some seems to have
become old news for others

By Traci Watson
USA TODAY (July 7, 2004)

OAKTON, Va. -- Betsy Kulick recycles. So do her adult sons. And so do her
siblings, in-laws and 78-year-old mother.

''It's just become routine,'' says Kulick, 52, a government contract worker.
''It's not difficult. It doesn't take any intelligence.''

Recycling is so routine in America that many people don't think about it --
or even do it at all. After recycling numbers soared for the past two
decades, several states are cutting back, spending less money on programs
and seeing participation level off for the first time.

Many communities have less incentive to push recycling, because landfill
space is more plentiful than cities expected in the 1980s. The result is
that fewer people in the USA are joining Betsy Kulick in the ranks of
reliable recyclers. Some of the evidence:

* The percentage of recycled material climbed dramatically in the late 1980s
and 1990s. But it has not risen over the past few years.

* Recycling has declined in many communities, including Seattle, where
residents once sorted their trash with as much enthusiasm as citizens
elsewhere root for the local football team.

* Americans are trashing more beverage cans and bottles, among the easiest
items to recycle. Recycling rates for both are the lowest they've been since
the mid-1990s.

It's a different era for recycling. Orphaned garbage barges no longer make
headlines. Politicians don't pose with recycling trucks for glitzy photo
ops. Recyclers don't get restaurant coupons or cash prizes anymore.

In 1987, the wanderings of the garbage barge Mobro became a symbol of
American wastefulness and the overflowing landfills. Today, although more
Americans recycle than vote, the sense of urgency has faded.

Ten years ago, the garbage crisis ''was a headline news story,'' says Jenny
Gitlitz of the Container Recycling Institute. Now, she says, complacency and
apathy have set in.

Recycling goals not met
Many states will miss -- or have already missed -- the ambitious recycling
targets they set for themselves in the 1990s, says Michele Raymond,
publisher of the trade journal State Recycling Laws Update.

Connecticut, for example, hoped to reduce waste by 40% by 2000. Today it
recycles 25% of that amount. ''Curbside recycling isn't diverting as much
waste as (state officials) thought it would,'' Raymond says. ''They set up
these lofty goals when there was an alleged crisis in the 1990s, and now
they can't meet them.''

Garbage hit America's TV screens in the summer of 1997, when the Mobro spent
months wandering the East Coast looking for a place to dump the trash it

The scenes of the unwanted barge filled many viewers with guilt over the
quantity and fate of their garbage. By 1990, nearly half of all Americans
said their community faced a ''very serious'' waste disposal problem,
according to economist Frank Ackerman of Tufts University.

Recycling became an overnight trend, as chic in some places as latte and
spinach wraps. Counties, cities and even villages created recycling programs
in the decade after the Mobro's voyage, and Americans everywhere learned to
sort glass from plastic.

The efforts paid off. In 1989, 8% of the garbage from U.S. homes, shops and
offices was recycled. In 1997, that figure had jumped to roughly 30%,
according to a study in the journal BioCycle, which publishes widely cited
recycling statistics.

But after the mid-1990s, fewer programs to collect recycled materials sprang
up. And the percentage by weight of trash that's recycled ''appears to have
plateaued,'' says Columbia University's Scott Kaufman, the lead researcher
on the BioCycle study.

That may be partly because newspapers, cans and other recyclable materials
are lighter in weight than they used to be. But it may also be because the
''crisis'' highlighted in the Mobro era is more than 15 years old. People
have gotten blasÈ.

''If recycling isn't something people keep hearing about every day, it's
going to be a background issue in their minds,'' says Ron Perkins, a
recycling consultant with SCS Engineers, which studies municipal recycling
programs. In Seattle, many residents still regard throwing out a soda can as
an affront to Mother Earth. But others seem to have decided that recycling
is a bore.

From 1995 to 2001, recycling by residents of single-family homes fell 3%,
says Chris Luboff of Seattle Public Utilities. That's a small drop, but
Luboff notes that other cities, such as San Jose, Calif., increased their
recycling over the same period.

One possible reason: Recycling ''is not so much in the news,'' Luboff says.
''I think maybe there's a bit of skepticism.''

Seattle decided in December to make recycling mandatory. Starting in 2006,
city crews will leave residents' garbage sitting on the curb if it often
contains recyclables.

In Boise, participation in the voluntary curbside collection program has
dropped. In Franklin County, Ohio, the percentage of waste recycled fell 50%
from 1994 to 2000. In Florida, the proportion of garbage that gets recycled
leveled off after 1998.

Not even cans and bottles
Many Americans aren't even bothering to recycle the items that are easiest
to recycle: beverage cans and bottles. The recycling rates for those items
have actually moved backward in recent years.

According to the Container Recycling Institute, less than half the nation's
aluminum beverage cans are recycled now, compared with two-thirds in 1992.

In 2002, Americans recycled 21% of the plastic bottles that contain soda,
water and other drinks, compared with 37% recycled in 1995.

Recycling experts say the trend is attributable to more people drinking
sodas and other beverages away from home. Only the most committed recyclers
will carry empty bottles home from the office or the park. Most people trash

''The recycling rate of these materials in homes is very good,'' says Jerry
Powell, editor of Resource Recycling. ''Where it isn't happening is in the

So has recycling hit its peak? Many proponents are optimistic it hasn't.
They say cities could make recycling programs more convenient or collect
more types of material or cut trash fees for people who recycle the most.

To help them figure out how to convince more people, some local governments
have hired companies to dig through their garbage to pull out all the stuff
that should've been recycled.

Such studies always find large amounts of paper and other recyclables in the

''No matter how good your educational promotion is, you still have some
recycled materials,'' says Raycharn Liou, project manager of one such study
in Montgomery County, Md. ''You can't (expect) 100% when you deal with the

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

[GreenYes Archives] - [Date Index] - [Thread Index]
[Date Prev] - [Date Next] - [Thread Prev] - [Thread Next]