September, 20 2001
Mr. Allan Gerlat, Editor Waste News, Akron, OH
Bob Eisenbud, Director of Legislative Affairs for Waste Management, Inc., said that the problem with recycling today is commodity prices, not relatively cheap landfills (“Recyclers oppose tax breaks,” Waste News, September 3, 2001). We disagree.
Commodity prices do not drive recycling. The actual engines of recycling are a deep-seated concern for the environment – don’t befoul the nest – and avoided disposal costs. Environmental concerns jumpstarted the modern recycling movement in the 1970s. But curbside recycling programs did not become mainstream until the astonishing rise in disposal costs in the 1980s. In New Jersey, for example, landfill prices increased from $8 per ton to $100 per ton. Soon thereafter the state instituted mandatory recycling. It now has one of the highest recycling levels in the nation.
Many communities embraced recycling as an alternative to highly expensive and polluting waste incinerators. Waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and composting are the least-cost waste management options available and cushion communities from future cost increases. The idea of destroying materials, emitting dangerous pollutants, and committing $90 billion in local bonding capacity motivated civic and environmental groups, progressive local officials, and small businesses to say no in unison to the rush to burn. The prospect of expensive incineration made recycling cost-effective. Indeed only about 30 of the 300 large-scale waste incinerators planned were ever built.
Raising commodity prices will not impact recycling levels as much as raising disposal prices to reflect their true costs. Disposal companies directly compete with recyclers. Eisenbud’s claim that “tip fees pay for landfill cells” is false. Tip fees do not cover the true perpetual costs of maintaining and monitoring landfills. Tip fees do not cover the Superfund costs of cleaning up the groundwater pollution associated with the failure of landfill liner systems. Tip fees do not cover the public health impact costs of landfills. On the other hand, putting surcharges on all disposal facilities will help bring disposal prices more in line with their true costs and make recycling more economically attractive in the marketplace.
|Neil Seldman, Ph.D., President||Brenda Platt Director, Materials Recovery|