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[GreenYes] Re: Is MSW recycling the best policy?

At 12:05 PM 9/22/2006 -0500, Stephan Pollard wrote:
>In the interest of opening up what has the potential to be an
>enlightening and healthy discussion I am curious as to the various
>perspectives people may have on the following cited peer-reviewed
>article's assertion that the goal of MSW recycling (presumedly that
>of the US) should not be to increase MSW recycling but rather to
>increase environmental quality and the sustainability of the
>economy" and that "from a review of the existing economic experience
>with recycling and an analysis of the environmental benefits
>(including estimation of external social costs)... for most
>communities, curbside recycling is only justifiable for some
>postconsumer waste, such as aluminum and other metals."

Well, I really don't want to comment on a paper without having read
it, and the text of this 1999 paper is not available on line except
(apparently) for $25 and I'm not that curious. But it seems very
unlikely that the authors' quantifications of health and
environmental impacts ("(including estimation of external social costs)")
would seem sufficient to me, nor is it likely that a 1999 paper
reflects current pricing of oil and recyclables. Or takes climate
change seriously. Most recent review papers, trying to look at the
universe of garbage management literature, seem to suggest that most
studies favor recycling.

More to my point though: I am an activist, and tend to see this
issue in terms of the actual experiences of communities having to
live next to dumps and incinerators. These are morally indefensible,
abstractions aside.

I agree that one should not obsess on "recycling" to the exclusion of
all else. Much gets to the curb that doesn't need to be there.

Have a good weekend.

Alan Muller
Green Delaware
>The authors say that, "curbside recycling of postconsumer metals can
>save money and improve environmental quality if the collection,
>sorting, and recovery processes are efficient" and that "curbside
>collection of glass and paper is unlikely to help the environment
>and sustainability save in special circumstances."
>The authors go on to suggest that deposit/refund schemes might be
>advantageous but that "if consumers make a special trip to return
>recoverable materials, the energy required is likely to exceed the
>energy saved by recovery." In addition, that significant benefits
>might be accrued in product takeback schemes.
>Best Regards,
>Lave, L.B., Hendrickson, C.T., Conway-Schempf, N.M., McMichael,
>F.C., 1999. Municipal solid waste recycling issues. Journal of
>Environmental Engineering 125(10): 944-949.
>Municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling targets have been set
>nationally and in many states. Unfortunately, the definitions of
>recycling, rates of recycling, and the appropriate components of MSW
>vary. MSW recycling has been found to be costly for most
>municipalities compared to landfill disposal. MSW recycling policy
>should be determined by the cost to the community and to society
>more generally. In particular, recycling is a good policy only if
>environmental impacts and the resources used to collect, sort, and
>recycle a material are less than the environmental impacts and
>resources needed to provide equivalent virgin material plus the
>resources needed to dispose of the postconsumer material
>safely. From a review of the existing economic experience with
>recycling and an analysis of the environmental benefits (including
>estimation of external social costs), we find that, for most
>communities, curbside recycling is only justifiable for some
>postconsumer waste, such as aluminum and other metals. We argue that
>alternatives to curbside recycling collection should be explored,
>including product takeback for products with a toxic content (such
>as batteries) or product redesign to permit more effective product

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