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[greenyes] Recycling Levels Soft


Recycling levels begin to droop
By Traci Watson, USA TODAY
OAKTON, Va. - Betsy Kulick recycles. So do her adult sons. And so do her
siblings, in-laws and 78-year-old mother.

Betsy Kulick, organizing curbside in her Virginia neighborhood, says she
also recycles at her summer vacation home in Wisconsin.
By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

"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 blasé.
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
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 rather than
voluntary. Starting in 2006, city crews will leave residents' trash 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.

Peter Anderson, President
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Ph: (608) 231-1100
Fax: (608) 233-0011
Cell: (608) 698-1314
eMail: anderson@no.address

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