Whither Recycling?

New studies show it makes both environmental and economic sense


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For years, environmental do-gooders' dutiful sorting of newspapers, aluminum cans, and different colors of glass was so, well, dutiful that local municipalities couldn't keep up the pace; pretty soon stories were cropping up in local newspapers all over the country about warehouses full of plastic bottles and newsprint awaiting a reincarnation that would never happen. Adding fuel to the skepticism, last January the Wall Street Journal ran a lengthy article that argued that recycling programs cost the government and taxpayers 'hundreds of millions of dollars more than can be recouped by selling the sorted trash.' By April, Washington DC suspended its curbside recycling program. And with the budget-cutting fever that's sweeping Capitol Hill, it seems certain that more recycling programs across the country will get the ax.

That's too bad, since new studies are indicating that recycling actually makes economic sense. According to World Watch (July/Aug. 1995) 'since early 1994, prices for nearly all commonly collected recyclables have skyrocketed. In San Francisco...the used paper, plastic, and metals the city picks up from curbs are bringing in 'unprecedented revenue' -- allowing the city to actually reduce household assessments for waste collection and recycling.'

Nowhere is the 'unprecedented revenue' more apparent than in the price increase for old newspapers, the most common recyclable. Environmental Action (Summer 1995) reports that prices jumped to $112 a ton in January of 1995, up from $28 a ton the previous year, and the current increase in paper prices bodes well for the future of paper products that use post-consumer waste.

Here on the Web an excellent place to learn more about the business of recycling is Recycler's World. Functioning as a virtual commodity exchange, this site is full of information about any recyclable imaginable, from old cars to exotic metals and leather. Besides being a great resource to learn more about recycling investment opportunities, the site also houses an exceptionally thorough database of publications that cover recycling.

Original to Utne Reader Online