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

I¹ve heard and read these arguments before (see below). I have two

1. Recycling by its nature is micro-economic and depends upon a host of
factors such as regional disposal fees, local markets, competitive
processing facilities, the distance landfills are from collection points for
trash, curbside efficiencies (there are a slew of issues here including
participation rates, truck capacity, and human resource configurations),
etc.; i.e., what works in Philly will not necessarily work in St. Louis; I
do not think there is a way to do a meaningful macro-economic analysis.
2. Any cost-benefit analysis performed--even on a micro-economic
level--should take into account lifecycle cost issues, economic development
issues (remember there are significant multipliers for recycling businesses
that there aren¹t for trash), environmental issues (long haul trucking and
incinerators create a lot of emissions problems), total energy flows,
landfill and incinerator time horizons, the time value and opportunity cost
of investment options, the impact of population growth (especially large
urban centers outside the dying northeast) and ? this is the biggie, global
warming implications. No one is doing a good job at all that I see factoring
in the cost to society of long-term landfill management, mining and
clear-cutting ? all huge, huge, huge environmental issues with tremendous
global warming implications.

More to the point, all of this comes down to values and our beliefs as human
beings. I personally think that anyone throwing something away that can be
recycled is making a statement of ignorance and/or disrespect for the planet
we live on. I¹ve learned to not take this ignorance and disrespect
personally. Otherwise I would probably either have committed suicide a long
time ago or just gone postal. I¹ve run the numbers in our region (SE PA) and
I know recycling is a much better investment than trash. The problem we have
here is that so far the budget for recycling in municipalities in our region
does not match the level of recovery potential. If we want to manage 50% of
our waste stream through recycling systems, we really need 50% of the MSW
budget. This has never been the case. In Philly, the recycling program gets
about 7-8% of the MSW budget. In NY it¹s a little better, but not much. I¹m
sure this is true throughout the country. We¹re trying to build the future
here. Not the past and not the present. Show me the frickin¹ money!

That¹s my contribution to your question Stephan. Now I gotta pick my kids up
at school...


on 9/22/06 1:05 PM, Stephan Pollard at stephan.pollard@no.address wrote:

> All,
> 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."
> 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,
> Stephan
> 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.
> Abstract:
> 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 remanufacture.
> >

David Biddle, Executive Director
Greater Philadelphia Commercial Recycling Council
P.O. Box 4037
Philadelphia, PA 19118

215-247-3090 (desk)
215-432-8225 (cell)


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