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The New Recycling Movement: Part 1. Recycling Changes to Meet New Challenges

| Written by ILSR Admin | No Comments | Updated on Oct 1, 2003 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/the-new-recylcing-movement-part-1-recycling-changes-to-meet-new-challenges/
Also See Part 2. Recycling as Necessary But Not Sufficient for a Sustainable Industrial Economy

First of two articles on the New Recycling Movement

I. The Traditional Recycling Movement

When we think of great popular movements of the last century, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and the women’s rights movement quickly come to mind. The recycling movement deserves to be added to this illustrious list, for it may be the largest multi-ethnic, multi-class, and multi-generation movement in American history. More people recycle than vote in the US.

We should not trivialize the success of recycling in the last 35 years. It may have to do with one of society’s most mundane problems, garbage, or discarded materials, but its implications go to the heart of our industrial system. Can we call recycling revolutionary? Well, consider that Frederich Engels and Karl Marx viewed recycling a key to their ideal industrial society. One in which the by-products of one factory provide the feed stock for neighboring factories; and one in which organic matter is returned to the earth to heal the “metabolic rift” caused by non-sustainable traditional practices.

The percentage of discarded materials recycled has soared from 5% ( 8 million tons) in 1968, to 30% (75 million tons) today. In some industries, automobiles, lead acid batteries, paper and cardboard, construction steel, recycled materials comprise a majority, in some cases a vast majority, of the materials used in new products.

From the bottom up, recycling has begun to change the nature of our industrial system. In 1970 there were just a handful of cities with curbside recycling programs. Today there are 9,000. Recycling has become in this time frame a permanent part of US daily life. More people recycle every day at home, school and work than vote regularly in elections. The impact has been dramatic. In 1968 the US recycling industry consisted of 8,000 companies that employed 79,000 people, with annual sales of $4.6 billion. By 2000, 56,000 private and public facilities employed 1.1 million jobs and had $236 billion in annual sales. From 1967 to 2000 the recycling industry experienced yearly employment growth rates of 8.3%. In comparison total US employment grew 2.1% annually in this time period. In Ohio, the recycling industry is a $650 million sector of the economy. In California it is a $1.8 billion sector.

Job Creation Versus Disposal

Type of Operation Jobs Per 10,000 TPY
Computer Reuse 296
Plastic Product Manufacturers 93
Textile Reclamation 85
Misc. Durables Reuse 62
Wooden Pallet Repair 28
Glass Product Manufacturers 26
Recycling-Based Manufacturers 25
Paper Mills 18
Conventional MRFs 10
Composting 4
Disposal 1

Source: Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, DC, 1997.

In addition, the recycling movement spearheaded drives in cities and counties across the US to cancel no less than 300 planned incinerators that would have used up billions of dollars in local capital and destroyed the very materials that have made recycling a leading economic development engine. The recycling movement helped avoid millions of tons of toxic gas and solid emissions. Waste incineration is the leading producer of dioxin, the world’s deadliest man-made chemical. Just one large waste incinerator generates as much S02 (Sulfur Dioxide) as 187,000 cars and as much NOx (Oxides of Nitrogen) as 134,000 cars driving through a neighborhood every day; assuming best available control technologies.[1] Grass roots recyclers saw the implications of waste incineration long before national environmental organizations did. The latter initially saw ‘controlled incineration’ as an improvement over open burning of wastes.

The recycling movement’s success is based on its ability to form coalitions and to solve problems in a cost effective manner at the local level where America pays $70 billion annually on solid waste management services. Coalitions with national environmental organizations helped raise the price of wastefulness through new regulations that required sanitary landfills and controls on incinerator air emissions and proper ash disposal, which exposed the true cost of these disposal techniques. As the cost of disposal increased to meet Best Available Control Technology standards, the cost avoidance value of recycling increased correspondingly. The cost avoidance value of recycling far exceeds the market value of recycled materials. Cities that include processing, manufacturing and distribution of products within their local economy also increase the value of recycling in their economy. [2]

At the local level, recyclers joined with local businesses and civic associations trying to avoid the pollution and high capital and operating costs of incineration. Citizen led victories were won over numerous coalitions of incinerator industry manipulated local governments that used an array of federal supports to build incinerators. Because the battles were local, citizen numbers overcame corporate and government dollars. [3]

The recycling movement’s ability to solve logistical and marketing problems at the local and regional level is legendary as consecutive waves of new trucks, bins, processing and shipping improvements became a hallmark of community based recycling companies. These have been replicated in the private sector. At the same time the movement’s ability to change the rules of the game assured the flow of capital. Government and corporate purchasing preferences also favored recycling over wasting. Citizen based recyclers were ingenious as they began their mission by starting drop off centers (the forerunners of curbside collection) as they also won the hearts and minds of the public. By getting to the households through school, and public awareness programs, recyclers garnered the votes needed to stop incineration and initiate the series of new rules that changed the market place in favor of recycling. These include:

  • Mandatory recycling for households, businesses and government offices.
  • Minimum recycled content of new products sold in a jurisdiction.
  • Variable can rates which charged households for garbage but nothing for recycling.
  • Purchasing preferences that favored recycled content products.
  • Financial authorities that transferred funds through tax incentives, disposal surcharges, container deposits and bonds from wasting to recycling.
  • Recycling industrial development zones which are reserved for recycling plants.
  • Bans on disposing of yard debris, construction and demolition debris and computers and other recyclable materials from landfills and incinerators.
  • Bans on the use of problem products such as polystyrene food and drink containers.

The critical institution of change for the recycling movement has been the state wide recycling associations—the trade associations of the community based, for profit, municipal recycling programs, end user corporations and environmentally motivated citizens. These can be likened to the Committees of Correspondence from the country’s Revolutionary War era. The organizations generated legislation statewide and nationally[4] and provided technical know how by training generations of recyclers in business accounting, insurance, inventory control, marketing and environmental education manuals and lesson plans.

From 1974, when the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) was formed as the first state recycling association, there are now 26 state associations which are united nationally through the National Recycling Coalition formed in Fresno in 1980 by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA).

II. The Rap Against Recycling

Recycling has hit a plateau at about 30% of the municipal solid waste stream since the late 1990’s. Given the budget crisis many local officials have attempted cities to cut recycling programs as an easy opportunity for savings. Citizen response was immediate. Programs that were cancelled were re-established. Plans for cutting recycling were scrapped.

Even as recycling grew to 30% the waste stream has kept apace.[5] Anti-recycling interests seized upon this data to pronounce that recycling has reached its peak and can go no further. Winston Porter, former federal environmental spokesman now waste industry spokesman, strenuously announced this reality on National Public Radio. The next speaker representing the recycling program from Falls Church, VA pointed out that her city has a 60% recycling rate.

Curiously, the initial anti-recycling forces seized on the presumed limits of recycling. In the 1970’s the waste industry and federal agencies admitted that perhaps 10% of the waste stream could be recycled. In the 1980’s the limit was perceived to be 25%. By the time these findings were reached hundreds of cities had already surpassed the supposed limits of recycling.[6] The recent history of NYC’s recycling program is illustrative of the growth of recycling through imagined ceilings. NYC cut back its recycling program due to budget cuts. But they soon discovered that cutting the recycling program added even more costs to their disposal system. They also calculated that to process recyclables they would have to pay $67 per ton to the waste industry. When a recycling company offered to pay the city $5 per ton for materials the entire economics of waste management versus resource management became apparent. By cutting the waste stream by 20% the city could also extend the daily capacity of their waste crews by picking up from 750 households per route from 600. NYC should not have been surprised by these findings. Within the city VISY paper company recycles 150,000 tons of waste paper annually and manufacturers industrial paperboard products. The plant employs over 100 workers and receives most of its feedstock via city barges, the most environmentally and economical way to move materials. The closed loop system saves the city’s solid waste management system $10 million annually in avoided costs. The plant can also expand to 300,000 tons per capacity which will allow it to use virtually all of the waste paper generated in the city. This closed loop system can be replicated for all discarded materials as NYC has the internal market and the export market available through its ports.

It should also be kept in mind that while the national recycling rate is 30% major cities and small towns have individually reached 40%, 50% and even 60% recycling, composting and source reduction. The City of Los Angeles and Alameda County having reached their state mandated goal of 50% recycling have now announced 70% goals. Using techniques that are available to any other city or town of comparable size, it turns out that the hardest thing to do in recycling is to start recycling; then common sense and entrepreneurialism take over. [7]

Well-funded forces railing against recycling are formidable, and for good reason. They are fighting for their economic survival in hopes of holding on to their considerable vested interests in the traditional methods of solid waste disposal. If they lose this battle waste management will become resource management requiring a different array of industrial activities and institutions. Common sense tells us which industries oppose recycling.

+ The virgin materials industry fights recycling because it does not want competition. Each industrial raw material is extracted and processed by an oligopoly of a few corporations. Since each city and town in the country can generate and process metal, plastic, paper and glass materials that are 100% substitutable for virgin materials, the recycling sector is comprised of thousands of direct competitors to the virgin materials corporations.

+ The waste hauling industry which has also grown into a national oligopoly wherein 3 firms dominate the collection, transfer and disposal markets also detests recycling. These firms make 10 times as much profit when disposing of waste as they do when they recycle materials. Waste industry officials boast that their goal is monopoly power which will allow them to raise rates at will. Governments and small haulers will have no place else to go. The industry fully understands how recycling provides leverage against these goals of concentration. “For nearly a decade”, one industry analyst stated, “recycling has decimated aggregate volume growth in the traditional waste management business. Less recycling should lead to accelerated disposal volumes, which in turn should lead to price leverage for landfill operators.”

According to waste management and recycling economist Peter Anderson, Center for a Competitive Waste Industry, once centralized waste management companies dominate the landfill market in a region prices can increase dramatically.[8] San Jose, CA, introduced its recycling program as an escape valve from arbitrary landfill price hikes of up to 40%. They not only succeeded in establishing one of the best recycling programs in the US but also drove landfill prices in their region down. Similarly Anderson has shown that when waste companies attempt to control recycling processing capacity, it is part of the same market domination scheme. Once control is wrought from local hands, recycling levels go down and the cost of recycling goes up. [9]

Other cities have taken direct actions to prevent the take over of the waste hauling and recycling sector by concentrated corporations. San Francisco has contracted with a local hauling firm under which the company makes more profit through recycling than disposal. This has enabled the hauler to provide food waste recycling at cost effective rates to both households and commercial generators. Portland, OR developed a franchise system for waste collection and recycling that protects its 40 local haulers from competition from large national corporations. Washington, DC has decided to rebuild its own transfer stations as a strategy to close down irresponsible private trash transfer stations. DC has also decided to take back its recycling program from private contractors and return the program to its Department of Public Works.

Most recently, recycling opponents have concentrated on rolling back new rules that sustain recycling. In Illinois and Iowa, attempts to rescind landfill bans for yard debris were defeated by a coalition of national and local recycling organizations. However, anti-recycling interests have succeeded in seven states and at the federal level in declaring garbage a ‘renewable resource’ in an effort to subsidize incineration of waste. In Minnesota, subsidies for burning turkey manure have been implemented even though there is a thriving market for turkey manure in the agricultural sector.

+ Wall Street financial houses prefer landfills and incinerators to smaller facilities. Larger facilities require from $200 to $500 million for local governments and corporations to finance. This level of financing requires the sale of secured bonds. On the other hand recycling facilities require just $10-20 million to finance. Many jurisdictions are able to finance their recycling through their operational budgets, or local financial firms. Hence limiting the opportunity for Wall Street.

+ Anti-recycling think tanks and their op-ed pundits have been the public face of the anti-recycling activities. Resistance to recycling takes on an ideological aspect, consciously distorting the facts while presenting these distortions as objective information. Only those who are well informed on the details of recycling see through their purpose of preserving special interests. So called free marketers believe that only corporations have the right to change the rules in the market place. Thus they attack recycling, literally, as if it were a Communist Plot! They claim that recycling forces limits on the freedom of Americans by requiring a change in behavior. In fact recycling is a most forceful demonstration of free will and civic activity. It is citizen inspired through referenda, initiatives and legislation. Anti-recycling ideologues fear recycling because it is so rooted in the democratic process.

Because they are ideologically driven, anti-recycling writers must rely on faulty data to make the case against recycling. Their op-eds and “in depth” national nightly news features present data from cities like Chicago and New York which have inadequate systems. They conclude that recycling is an add on cost, that it does not “pay for itself” and that is shoved down the throats of cities, citizens and businesses. They fail to acknowledge that waste management does not “pay for itself” either and is 100% subsidized. Waste management services cost lots of money, but properly implemented and maintained recycling is a valuable cost avoidance mechanism. As Chas Miller of the Environmental Industries Association points out, by focusing on the poorly set up systems, these publicists overlook “the thousands of recycling programs that are run quietly and efficiently.” Recycling demonstrates that local initiative by elected officials and solid waste professionals have responded to citizen demand for recycling by adjusting routes, obtaining new equipment, redesigning facilities and introducing education, public awareness and incentive programs. By being creative at the local level, cities and towns have perfected their recycling systems as cost effective escape valves from the waste hauling oligopoly. And, they are reducing the environmental burden of their communities. Recycling makes people feel good for these reasons.

III. The Recycling Movement’s Response

Just as the early recyclers knew that they could not sustain their movement without new rules to govern the market place and change the traditional institutions of waste, today’s recycling movement has realized that new approaches are needed to take the movement forward.

Above all, they realize that recycling cannot win alone. The waste stream reflects the deeper determinants in the economy including transportation, energy, agricultural and manufacturing. If the lawn chemical clopyralid is not banned from use, then composting of yard debris contaminated with this toxin is endangered. If recycling is not allowed to compete for access to discarded materials then it cannot demonstrate its cost effectiveness and pollution reduction capacity. If manufacturers continue to put out products and packaging that contain hybrid materials, recycling cannot do its job at cost effective rates. If electronic waste is allowed to be shipped overseas to primitive and polluting sham recycling operations in poor countries, then environmentally sound industrial recycling of this hazardous waste is impossible.

If on the other hand recyclers can overcome these barriers through new rules and required responsible industrial behavior, recycling can reach its logical conclusion, a zero waste economy, or darn close to it.

The recycling movement has consciously set out to accomplish this very task. It has been transformed in the past five years. The movement has greatly widened its scope of concern, altered its main structure, expanded geographically , adopted new strategies and tactics, and linked its traditionally American grass roots up approach to a top down model being successfully implemented in Europe, Asia and South America.

Expanded scope of concern: Solid waste accounts for approximately 250 million tons of materials in the national economy. This is literally the tip of the iceberg, as over 12 billion tons of mining, agricultural and industrial waste are generated in the making and distribution of the products and packages that emerge as the municipal waste stream. If recycling remained focused on the tip of the iceberg its contribution toward a sustainable industrial economy would be limited indeed. In the mid-1990’s the recycling movement adopted a new stance which would extend its reach well beyond the nuts and bolts of recycling, composting and source reduction to both upstream and downstream concerns. Zero waste was adopted as the new goal to replace limited goals of 50%, or 70% recycling levels.

By integrating broader goals, the recycling movement has expanded its potential base of allies. For example, deconstruction, or the recovery and reuse of old building materials, has linked recyclers with forest preservation activists endeavoring to protect old growth forests from clear cutting techniques. As pointed out by Bill Walsh of the Healthy Building Network, wide spread implementation of wood recovery reduces the demand pressures on virgin fiber; thereby allowing demand for virgin fiber to be met with sustainable extraction from forests. Whereas clear cutting destroys the delicate ecology of forests over vast areas, sustainable forestry preserves these natural balances as well as the indigenous communities that thrive in old growth forests around the world. Walsh points out that 3.5 million board feet annually is available annually from Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative which will be taking down 19,000 obsolete buildings over the next 5 years. Similarly, zero waste strategies bring the recycling movement into close cooperation with the environmental justice movement. Damu Smith, director of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, states, “environmental justice is not against business. It is pro-business if facilities bring good jobs and do not pollute low income and minority communities.”

The recycling movement’s commitment to broad environmental (wilderness preservation, abatement of toxic substances), sustainability (both inter-generation and intra-generation equity) and social (jobs, community equity) concerns focused on impacts upstream as well as downstream of solid waste management has opened wide opportunities for new coalitions and strategies. It presents a new face to the recycling movement.

Altered main structure: New relationships dictated by a new scope of concern requires a new movement framework. Networks consisting of hundreds of affiliated grass roots organizations have replaced the state recycling associations as the main engine of the recycling movement. These networks include:

+ The Grass Roots Recycling Network formed by CRRA and ILSR in 1995 to combat the persistent media attacks on recycling on op-ed pages and nightly national news broadcasts. The GGRN has successfully pressured soda manufacturers to use recycled content in their plastic containers. It has also assisted local and state efforts to repeal yard debris bans. The GRRN web site provides accurate data on recycling and legitimate counter arguments to recycling bashing.

+ The Electronic Take Back Network was formed in 2000 by groups affiliated with GRRN, CRRA and ILSR to build on the work of the Silicon Valley Toxic Network. The Network has alerted the nation to the threat of mercury, lead, brominated fire retardant contamination from the disposal of computers and electronic equipment in landfills and incinerators. Whereas two years ago computer manufacturers scoffed at such efforts, today they are scrambling to implement take back programs demanded by an aroused consumer public. Several states have already banned these materials from disposal facilities, thus stimulating the introduction of new businesses that recover, reuse and recycle component parts. Network pressure has even forced Dell Computer to abandon its use of prison labor to recycle its computers which was determined to exploit workers and the environment. The Student Legislative Council at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has passed a resolution calling on Dell to take back its old computers, eliminate hazardous materials and properly recycle all components of its computers.

+ The Global Anti-Incineration Alliance (GAIA) was formed also in 2000 with coordination and training assistance from the Clean Production Program, University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and ILSR. This network of activists from around the world has focused on stopping planned incinerators in major Southern Tier metropolitan centers such as Taiwan, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Manila. The Alliance has helped pass the only national ban on incineration in the world, in the Philippines. GAIA’s chief coordinator Von Hernandez recently won the Goldman Environmental Award for his efforts in halting planned incinerators. GAIA, working with ILSR and Greenpeace Asia have prepared non-incineration based solid waste management plans for cities that are planning on building incinerators.

+ The Healthy Building Network, already mentioned, unites environmental, forest action, hospital administration and green building groups in their efforts to ban building materials that harm people and the environment and replace them with cost effective non-polluting materials. The network has successfully pressured Home Depot and Lowe’s to abandon its sales of pressure treated wood which is contaminated with arsenic, cadmium and copper.

+ The Environmental Paper Network with its hundreds of grass roots affiliates, successfully pressured Staples to sell paper with 30% minimum content, and to completely abandon products made from trees taken from endangered forests. Susan Kinsella of Conservatree which acts as coordinator for the network, points out that a threatened boycott pressured Staples to listen to its customers and not its international paper suppliers. Most recently, Kinkos and Boise Cascade announced that they will stop using trees taken from endangered forests.

These networks have overlapping representation. They form an interlocking directorate of grass roots activists set to challenge the interlocking directorate of multinational corporations that currently make the rules of national and international commerce.

Expanded geographical concern: The US recycling movement always had an international dimension to it. In the mid-1980’s solid waste officials in vain tried to send garbage from Long Island, NY and incinerator ash from Philadelphia to dump their cargoes in Southern Tier ports and beaches. Repeated failures in finding an international home for these wastes were broadcast on the nightly TV news, thus greatly publicizing the need for increased recycling. Greenpeace place a giant banner on the Mobro carrying 3,000 tons of Long Island waste: Next Time Recycle. The poster made from this scene has been widely disseminated. Further, the US recycling movement benefited greatly from the European dioxin studies which traced this dangerous organic chemical to waste incineration in the late 1980’s

Most recently, coordination between US and international recycling organizations has allowed US recyclers to make unprecedented progress. By cooperating with activists in Asia for example, the Electronic Take Back Network focused attention on the dark side of the computer industry which has heralded the rapid change in policy described above. By publicizing the film, “Exporting Harm” the network revealed how US computers were shipped overseas for sham recycling processes which forced workers, including children to handle hazardous materials in totally unacceptable ways. Lead from these activities resulted in contamination of workers and water, soil and air resources of remote villages in India and China. The dumping of old computers through sham recycling operations undercut the development in the US of environmentally sound and labor intensive computer recycling enterprises. By cutting off this reserve army of exploited workers and villages, the network served both the international community and the US national economy. At the same time the network used the new European Community clean computer Directive to demonstrate that computers can be manufactured without hazardous materials and that design of computers can facilitate cost effective recycling of component parts. If US manufacturers are going to have to produce clean computers for the European markets, why can’t they do the same of their customers in the US? While US manufacturers fight the imposition of these new rules, Japanese products which meet the 2005 standards are already in the market place. Lead-free microchips are available from Toshiba which has responded to customer requirements.

Adopted new strategies and tactics: The recycling movement adopted three new general strategies and new tactics by which their expanded mission could address the industrial system as opposed to just the solid waste stream.. The strategies are Zero Waste, Extended Producer Responsibility and the Precautionary Principle. Market campaigns have been the tactic of choice in the past 2 years.

Zero Waste is both a goal to strive for and a very practical strategy already taken by manufacturers. Dozens of jurisdictions across the globe have adopted Zero Waste goals and there are independent networks of private firms that have realized this goal. These include the UN sponsored Zero Emissions Research Initiative, Clean Production Network, scores of independent Pollution Prevention and Smart Growth programs conducted by industry and government agencies. A steady stream of conferences, list serves and roundtables are provided by these programs. Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice are negotiating with two companies to locate in an ecological industrial park. One processes industrial rubber, including tires, for the rubber compounding industry. The other produces fish and fresh vegetables and ornamental plants. Neither company generates any waste.[10]

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) calls for industry to halt its “unfunded mandate” of waste products and packages which forces governments and businesses to pay for waste management and recycling. Consumers have no say in the design of these products and packages, yet they have to bear the costs. EPR calls for companies to take either physical or financial responsibility for these materials. European countries and Canadian provinces have taken the lead in requiring such take back mechanisms. In the US federal and industrial officials have tried to parry the thrust of EPR by proclaiming Extended Product Responsibility as the proper approach. This extends responsibility to consumers and local government and away from corporations. Most recently, grass roots and state regulatory officials have succeeded in stopping these palliative efforts and forced Extended Producer Responsibility on the computer industry.

The Precautionary Principle teaches that prevention is far less expensive than clean up. In the solid waste field this approach is intuitive. Most Superfund sites in the US are old solid waste landfills. The current cost of billions of dollars in clean up funds could have been avoided if discarded materials were handled properly in the first place; and at a fraction of the cost. Thus, recyclers call for up front investment in recycling and waste prevention prior to disposal. As Ben Franklin famously said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is an important lesson for federal officials to contemplate as new federal guidelines will actually loosen landfill regulations and subsidize unproven bioreactor landfill technology.[11] San Francisco recently became the first US city to declare its commitment to the Precautionary Principle. No less than 40 other cities quickly followed this lead.

Market based campaigns have been used to pressure Zero Waste, EPR and Precautionary Principle planning and implementation. The Staples, Home Depot and computer take back campaigns have been mentioned. These campaigns have been modeled after the successful market campaigns to pressure McDonald’s to change its meat purchasing practices and Nike to change its labor practices in the Southern Tier. They are based on the premise that organized consumers can be active participants in the economy and not just passive subjects. Market campaigns, combined with traditional citizen organizing to support new rules, form a potent brew for future recycling campaigns.

Linked grass roots bottoms up approach to the European top down approach: New standards for manufacturers known as Directives have been established by the European Union, with additional Directives promulgated by individual countries. The pattern had been set in 1989 when the European Union passed Directives for Waste Incineration, Packaging, End of Life Vehicles, and Biological Waste (Composting). Last year the Waste from Electrical Equipment (WEE) was passed with a compliance date set for 2005. Japanese companies have already produced computers that will meet this standard. US companies and federal agencies cry that these directives are “trade distortions” . In fact, they are new rules that are necessary to protect public health, and nurture a sustainable and non-polluting industrial economy. The Directives have imposed planning criteria that have spurred investment that have already changed the marketplace in favor of environmentally sound development. In England for example, a $40 per ton disposal surcharge has greatly increased recycling and stimulated the development of no less than 300 new local recycling companies nation wide.

Two new Directives are poised to make even more dramatic impacts in Europe. The Directives on Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) and Restrictions of Hazardous Substances (ROHR) passed in 2003. These Directives shift responsibility to industry for disclosure of any harmful effects of chemicals and create a system for phasing out the worst of these chemicals. This reverses the burden of proof which up until now called for governments to prove that an industrial chemical is harmful to people and the environment.

Yet another significant Directive is in the offing. Planners are developing a Directive on Reusable Containers which will require uniform containers for beer and soft drinks. Companies will be allowed to distinguish their products only by caps, labels and neck collars. But the containers will be in standard sizes; thus any company can refill and re-label any bottle. The reuse as opposed to recycling of beverage containers will reduce the environmental impact of the beverage industry and also reduce the per unit cost of containers.

IV. Summary and Conclusion

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, it seemed virtually inconceivable that smoke stack industries like big steel and obsolete oil refineries would do anything other than remain a fixture in the US industrial scenery. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the coalitions of citizens, environmentalists and business people who stopped incinerators and brought about recycling throughout the US assumed that landfills will always be needed. Yet today, as the recycling movement has moved irreversibly toward sustainable development and zero waste, we can envision a “no new landfill” strategy. The limited ability of the waste industry to adjust to a resource management industry is all too visible.

The new US recycling movement is steadily moving forward based on its strong tradition of imposing new rules from below as well as leveraging pressure from the top down approach used in Europe and increasingly in Asia and South America. At the same time by expanding its scope of concerns and participation in networks and coalitions the US recycling movement is defining a future sustainable industrial economy and providing the practical steps needed to get there. Its relationship with the sustainable development movement is critical.

Part 2. Recycling as Necessary But Not Sufficient for a Sustainable Industrial Economy

Neil Seldman is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He has been a manufacturer and university lecturer. He is widely known for leadership in the anti-incineration battles throughout the US and for integrating recycling and community economic development through joint venture enterprises linking private firms and community development organizations.


[1] Kenneth Lasser, MD, Correspondence to the California Quality of Life Board, 4 August l986; quoted in Neil Seldman, “An Evaluation of Incineration Technologies”, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Washington, DC, October 1986.

[2] See, Recycling Economics, ILSR, 1990, ILSR: and Salvaging the Future, ILSR, 1989.

[3] See, “History of Recycling”, in, Encyclopedia of Energy, Technology and Environment, Wiley Brothers, 1995.

[4] See CRRA’s recycling policy agendas, California Recycling Agenda, 1985, Resource Conservation Agenda for the 1990’s, 1995, Agenda for the New Millennium, 2000; Also, See, National Recycling Research Agenda, 1980, prepared for the National Science Foundation by ILSR and CRRA.

[5] For statistics on recycling and wasting in the US, See, Platt and Seldman, Wasting in the US 2000, Grass Roots Recycling Network, 2001.

[6] See, Beyond 25% Recycling, ILSR, 1996; and Beyond 40% Recycling, Island Press, 1999; and, Cutting the Waste Stream In Half: Communities Show the Way, US EPA, 2000.

[7] For case studies of rural, small town/city, and urban recycling programs that reduce the overall costs of solid waste management, See, Waste Prevention, Recycling and Composting Options: Lessons from 30 Communities, US EPA, 1994; and, Recycling and Composting Programs: Designs, Costs, Results, ILSR, 1992.

[8] See, “Impact of Consolidation on Recycling”, MSW Management Magazine, June 2001.

[9] See, Facts to Act On, “Fighting Waste Industry Consolidation With Local Recycling Facilities”. ILSR, 2002.

[10] See Richard Anthony, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: The Way to Zero Waste”, in C. Ludwig, et al, ed., Municipal Solid Waste Management, Springer, 2003; Robin Murray, Zero Waste, Greenpeace, London, 2002; and, William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle, New Point Press, New York, 2002; Also,see, Local Actions That Support Zero Waste, CRRA Technical Council, 2003.

[11] This technology will pump water into existing ‘dry tomb’ landfills. Moisture will be increased from 20% to 45%-65% creating the equivalent of wet marshes. Thus 100 foot high landfill marches will be retained only by a thin (2 foot) berm and a plastic liner creating questionable site stability. The process shifts volatile organic chemicals from water to the atmosphere. See, Peter Anderson, Deregulation: the Fifth Horseman, forthcoming, 20004. Also, see, Competitive Waste.Org web page.