Defending Recycling – Moving Towards Zero Waste

The articles and publications listed below discuss the benefits of recycling, refute criticisms aimed at recycling, identify new trends, and highlight the continuing perils of disposal techniques such as incineration, landfilling, and trash transfer stations. They are all available for either online viewing or for downloading as PDF files.

Refuting Recycling Critics

Recycling Means Big Money in the Big Apple (March 2002)
by Neil Seldman and Kelly Lease
© Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, DC.
When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposes to dramatically reduce the City’s recycling program, he talks about money. Those who want to save and expand the program talk about values. An extensive story in The New York Times (March 12, 2002) sums up the thinking well in its sub-headline, “Bloomberg Puts Doing Well Ahead of Doing Good.”

The Paradigm Shift in NYC’s Solid Waste Management:
Citizen Perseverance Pays Off; Still a Way to Go for a Zero Waste City

by Neil Seldman and Kelly Lease, ILSR.
Presents a recycling-based waste management scenario for solving NYC’s reliance on out-of-state landfills

Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000
by Brenda Platt and Neil Seldman
2000, 64 pages $25 (incl. S&H)
GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN)
P.O. Box 49283, Athens, GA 30604-9283, (706) 613-7121
Order form available on the GRRN Web site: This report – prepared for the GrassRoots Recycling Network – summarizes the state of wasting and recycling in the U.S., details recycling’s many environmental and economic benefits, introduces the concept of zero waste planning, and concludes with an agenda for action. Recycling continues to increase, but is being outpaced by the rise in wasting. Landfill tonnage and interstate shipments of waste are growing. By documenting these trends, this report points to the need to expand public policies to eliminate waste and conserve resources. A must-have for recycling advocates.

Who’s Behind The Attack on Recycling? (December 1996)
by Neil N. Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance
One would think that recycling, like motherhood and apple pie, would be an activity beyond reproach. After all, an enterprise that requires less than a minute a day, that makes us feel good about ourselves, that reduces pollution and saves energy would seem to have a lot going for it. Yet, in the past 12 months, increasingly vicious attacks on recycling have appeared in the popular press.

The Five Most Dangerous Myths About Recycling (September 1996)
Twenty five percent was considered a maximum level in 1985. Today it should be considered a minimum, not a maximum. By continuing to build the reuse, recycling, and composting infrastructure and integrating the best features from the best programs – local and state – the nation as a whole can achieve 50% recycling by 2005.

Recycling at the Crossroads: Debating Its Potential (September 1996)
Remarks of Brenda Platt at the National Recycling Coalition conference, September, 1996

Recycling and the New York Times (July 1996)
by David Morris
“Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America…” Thus wrote John Tierney, a staff writer for the New York Times in a Sunday magazine cover story. The article generated more mail than any piece the magazine has ever published and spawned a slew of Op Ed pieces by conservatives crowing about how the liberal Times finally had accepted their view of the world.

Perils of Disposal Techniques

NYC Should Not Embrace Incineration (August 2002)
This ILSR letter to the editor of the New York Times (unpublished) responds to an article advocating the building of incinerators to handle New York City’s trash.

Myths and Facts about Waste Incineration (September 2001)
This ILSR letter to the editor of Waste News debunks myths perpetuated by the waste incineration industry.

Raise Disposal Fees to Reflect Their True Costs (September 2001)
This ILSR letter to the editor of Waste News points out that raising landfill disposal fees will do more to improve recycling than raising commodity prices.

Welfare for Waste: How Federal Taxpayer Subsidies Waste Resources and Discourage Recycling
GrassRoots Recycling Network, April 1999, pdf format

Moving Toward Zero Waste

Pushing for Refillables (August 2002)
This ILSR letter to the editor of Waste News (pending publication) defends Senator Jefford’s national bottle bill and argues for a refilling strategy. It responds to a Waste News editorial arguing against a national bottle bill.

Testimony in Support of Refilling (July 2002)
On Earth Day 2002, Senator Jeffords introduced Senate Bill 2220, the National Beverage Producer Responsibility Act of 2002. The bill calls for a minimum 80% recovery level, a 10 cent beverage container deposit, and an incentive to refill containers. This ILSR testimony urges Senator Jeffords to strengthen the language in the bill to more directly encourage refilling.

Defending the Zero Waste Movement(April 2002)
This ILSR letter to the editor of MSW Management (unpublished) responds to an editorial critical of the zero waste movement.

Extended Producer Responsibility: The Next Phase of the U.S. Recycling Movement (March 2000)
by Neil Seldman, ILSR.
The U.S. recycling movement once again is flexing its muscles, this time in the direction of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR proponents see discarded products and packages are an “unfunded mandate.” While some see unfunded mandates only as federal dictates that force spending at the local level, EPR advocates see unfunded mandates as corporate dictates that force local governments and small businesses to spend $43.5 billion annually for handling the materials that manufacturers so carelessly let loose upon the land.

Audio Resources

Science Friday: New Elements and Trash
National Public Radio’s Weekly Show had ILSR’s Brenda Platt and other experts on to talk about Garbage, June 11, 1999 (Real Audio)