A Response to Anti Recycling Ideology

I think the writers who periodically “trash” recycling as ‘broken’, ‘wasteful’, ‘outweigh the benefits’ are secretly in love with recycling. They write their pieces in order to give recyclers a chance to respond with proper answers on a broader platform. Bob Gedert’s article ‘National Recycling Coalition Sets the Record Straight’ (NRC News, January 7, 2016) is a perfect example of explaining the critical role recycling plays in economic and environmental realities juxtaposed to anti-recycling messaging.  Education of our youngsters is increasingly creating a recycling literate nation.

Here are my responses to frequently asked questions:

Q. Why are recycling markets collapsing?

+ Recycling markets are not collapsing. They have risen and fallen in a pattern that is decades old.

Q.  If markets are lower how can city and county programs survive?

+ Revenue from sale of recyclables is mostly besides the point for cities and counties. The greater value of recycling is cost avoidance. Worcester, MA saved $99 million in the last 15 years since they adopted mandatory recycling and Pay As You Throw billing to residents. The price of metal may fluctuate, but the cost of replacement landfills and incinerators  always rises.

Q. Isn’t incineration an economically sound alternative?

+ Incineration is not a viable economic alternative. In the last 18 years Montgomery County, MD residents and businesses pay twice as much to incinerate their garbage as compared with sending it directly to landfill. A new  fee on households and businesses was needed to pay for this financial indiscretion.  Failure to pay would allow the County to foreclose on your property.

Q. Recycling is too expensive?

+ Recycling is not more expensive than garbage. It is far less expensive. And it builds community, which is priceless.

Q. How did recycling happen in the US?

+ Recycling is the result of organized citizens and small businesses that  have honored the promise of democracy and environmental consciousness  at the local level through new rules for managing discards. They have taken charge of  decision making at the local level frustrating powerful haulers and landfill owners, Wall Street bonding houses and virgin materials corporations. The wasting industry thrives on waste while recyclers offer  superior alternatives through recycling, composting, reuse, redesign of and bans on offensive/toxic products and packages.

Q. If recycling is economically viable, why does WMI complain about not being able to make money on recycling?

+ WMI, Inc. can’t make money on recycling because it loses value through single stream collection of materials and over centralized (long distance) processing facilities. Single stream collection can work if the facility is scaled correctly, tip floors are made of the proper materials, equipment is operated at rated capacity, and if the facility is located within the jurisdiction that is generating the materials.

Q. Aren’t new garbage incinerator technologies clean?

+ Incinerators are usually the largest polluter or among the top few polluters in any air shed.

Q.  Why do we need to recycle?

+ Recycling leads to zero waste. Incineration and landfilling lead to the continued destruction of raw material, water and energy resources and a waste of public and private capital.

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Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.