GRN Recycle Talk FAQ
Answer

From: Fred Friedman (FRIEDMAN.FRED@EPAMAIL.EPA.GOV)
Date: Thu Mar 12 1998 - 08:02:00 EST


Date: Thu, 12 Mar 98 13:02 WET
From: FRIEDMAN.FRED@EPAMAIL.EPA.GOV (Fred Friedman)
Subject: Re: Bad Recycling (Samantha)

March 12, 1998

Dear Samantha,

It's apparent from your question that you're younger than me, so I'll try not to be patronizing or talk over your head.

There are good and bad things about anything that's pretty new: its threatening to a LOT of people, companies, organizations because it threatens their sense of 'the way things used to be' or because they have an attachment to old ways, or they have money at stake.
Recycling isn't exactly a new thing: it is a new thing as an industry to be taken seriously. Recycling is currently like a 9 year old: very capable, but not capable of standing on and living on its own. The nonrecycled versions of recycled products are made by firms that either do or do not feel threatened by the recycled competition. Some have accomodated themselves to recycled stuff, starting to make some of it themselves; some recyclers just make products from recycled. They too have an interest. Their interest is in recycling.
Whenever you hear bad or good stuff about recycling, ask yourself, Who is the source? What's their interest?

Now, recycling has successes and recycling has problems:

Problems: Like a 9 year old, recycling catches colds: the price of recyclables isn't steady or isn't as predictable as we'd like it to be. That creates uncertainty for firms doing recycling business and for cities selling their recyclables: some recyclables are worth less than what they were worth at some time in the past. What is a good price? The answer varies by item, by place, by economic climate.
Other problems: contamination of recyclable substances. Contamination is ever-present; since the feedstock is collected from thousands of sources, there will inevitably be contaminants: sticky papers in recyclable paper or food residues in plastic containers. Many of these problems have been solved, but the solutions always cost money and recyclers often are operating on thin margins of difference between economic success and failure: not the corporations who manufacture virgin and a little recycled product, but rather the firms which are exclusively manufacturing or processing recyclables.
Other problems overlap with these: price fluctuations, businesses going in and out of business, oversupply of some materials, dumping of materials, and programs run by cities and towns that aren't intelligently set up.
The Pay As You Throw Program for trash tends to increase recycling and make recycling futures be planned intelligently, gradually expanding to include high volume recyclables not presently covered. However, many cities and towns haven't looked at PAYT Programs seriously.

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