Title: [GreenYes] Re: are government subsidies going to save recycling?
The other element often overlooked is that recycling's main competitors, WTE and landfilling, are getting increasingly subsidized via assorted support for "making" energy by burning their waste for heat or electricity; or converting it via some other process into a liquid biofuel. Landfills may also be able to generate carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange by installing methane capture even if they are no required to do so by law. The energy savings and reduced GHG from reuse and recycling is getting neither the support or the attention that it should.
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>>> Amy Perlmutter <firstname.lastname@example.org> 12/13/08 11:10 AM >>>
I was surprised to see this message on a clean tech blog. It clearly
reflects to me the lack of understanding of recycling and
environmental issues even among the clean tech community. My response
is below it. The link to the blog is http://cleantech.com/news/3960/are-government-subsidies-going-save-recycling
Not sure if you need to be registered to use it. But do add your
voice if you can!
Are government subsidies going to save recycling?
December 9, 2008 - Casual musings by Emma Ritch, Cleantech Group
The value of materials recovered in the recycling process is
plummeting alongside oil and other commodities.
Since favorable economics are credited with driving the recycling push
of recent years (as opposed to eco-conscious consumers), the future of
recycling is now in question.
The New York Times reports that the price of tin is down from $327 a
ton earlier this year to about $5. Mixed paper is down from $100 a ton
to $20 to $25. Glass is an exception, with prices remaining steady.
Prices are dropping because there's no longer a demand for recycled
materials as the largest customer, China, has pulled back. Some
collectors are stockpiling the recyclables until prices go back up,
while others are refusing to accept more plastic and paper. Some are
even beginning to charge to accept materials that they previously paid
A new report last week showed that recycling paper and plastic
consumes more energy and resources than it saves (see Report calls
recycling a waste of energy). Metals were considered an exception to
the findings, which suggested trash was better served as a fuel source
for waste-to-energy plants.
So what does this mean for the businesses that have popped up to
capitalize on the value of recyclables? It's unclear.
Philadelphia-based RecycleBank, for example, gets paid by
municipalities to divert trash from a landfill to a recycling center.
If there's no value left in recyclables, will the industry have to
resort to government subsidies to survive?
We forget that throwing garbage away is a 100% subsidy, we don't ask
for garbage systems to pay for themselves, yet some people seem to
think that recycling has to stand on its own two feet, whatever that
There are many reports showing that materials reuse is benefits the
environment. Stop Trashing the Climate is only one of them: http://www.stoptrashingtheclimate.org/
Recyclables are probably the only commodity that can still be used
even with a negative price, meaning paying someone to take them is
still cheaper than throwing them in the dump. So these commodities can
still move in a slow market, as long as there is a use for them.
But despite all the clear environmental and economic reasons to
recycle, let's ask these questions: who among us wants to live near a
landfill, garbage incineration plant, strip mine or other extraction
industry? If the externalities of virgin materials extraction and
waste disposal were internalized- health impacts of air and water
pollution, long term monitoring and clean up of landfills, etc-
recycling would make even more sense economically. We've seen this
over and over with many more environmental solutions: if the costs of
pollution were internalized, you bet clean tech would be farther along.
The drop in primary, as well as secondary, commodity prices means that
we aren't buying as much stuff. Hopefully it means we won't be mining
or throwing away as much stuff, either.
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Cambridge, MA 02138
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