Monday, November 20, 2006

Rose´s Response

Here is the full text of the response Rose wrote to Chuck Armstrong's anti-recycling Collegian editorial. Included is the bibliography. Ignore the asterisks--they were there for editing purposes.

Chuck Armstrong’s article about recycling raises the valid point that the issue is complex. But beyond that, the article is riddled with inaccuracies.

Claim #1: Recycling is more expensive than disposal. That depends on where in the nation you live, and how well your recycling system is designed (1). Many recycling programs are still too young to judge their comparative costs. As communities divert waste from garbage to recycling, they may recover capital costs by reducing garbage collection, achieving economies of scale by recycling heavily, and selling recyclables. Indeed, many cities find recycling cheaper per ton than disposal (2). *Even small cities like Manhattan can afford to recycle, though, as the existence of Howie’s Recycling demonstrates.*

Claim #2: Most virgin materials are cheaper than recycled materials. Environmental Defense Fund reports the opposite, at least for paper (2). And there continues to be a market for recycled materials (2,3). Regardless, these pricetags do not reflect all environmental costs. When you compare the whole life cycle of a product made from virgin material and disposed of, versus one made from recycled material and then recycled, the latter reduces solid waste output, energy use, and most categories of air and water pollutants (4). This is because using recycled materials bypasses all the extraction and processing needed for virgin materials (3).

Claim #3: Recycling paper doesn’t “save trees” because we have tree farms. Tree farms replace natural forest ecosystems, thereby reducing wildlife habitat (2,5). Recycling one ton of paper (Americans use 1/3 ton per capita per year) saves 17 mature trees (6). Moreover, paper is the largest single component of landfill space (1,7).

*Claim #4: Smog-belching recycling trucks harm the environment. As mentioned above, garbage trucks can be retired as waste streams are diverted to recycling, and one must consider the whole life cycle of recycled versus disposed-of products, not just one step.*

Claim #5: Landfills are environmentally benign. Even with modern design regulations, landfills can still leak toxic leachate into the soil (2,7). Even if a landfill drainage system collects all leachate, it must still be treated. *Landfills also account for 36% of U.S. emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas*, and very few landfills refine their methane for fuel (2). Additionally, landfill sites are very limited in some parts of the country (1,7).

Recycling is not the whole picture, though—“Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” in that order. Recycling, though, is a valuable contributor. In 2000, recycling saved the equivalent of 6 million homes’ worth of energy (5). Aren’t savings like that worth our tax dollars?

List of Works Cited

1) Environmental Protection Agency. Last updated October 23, 2006. Frequently Asked Questions about Recycling and Waste Management. Last accessed 11/19/06.

2) Denison RA, Ruston JF. July 18, 1996. Anti-Recycling Myths: Commentary on “Recycling is Garbage” (John Tierney, New York Times Magazine, June 30, 1996). Environmental Defense Fund. Last accessed 11/19/06.

3) Environmental Protection Agency. January 1998. Puzzled about Recycling’s Value? Look Beyond the Bin. PDF of brochure. Last accessed 11/19/06.

4) Denison RA. 1996. Environmental life-cycle comparisons of recycling, landfilling, and incineration: A review of recent studies. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 21: 191-237.

5) National Recycling Coalition. 2006. Environmental Benefits of Recycling. Last accessed 11/19/06.

6) Utah State University Recycling Center. No date given on website. Facts and Figures. Last accessed 11/19/06.

7) Botkin DB, Keller EA. 2003. Environmental science: Earth as a living planet, 4th edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 668 p.


Frobie said...


great job with your letter and all of the research to support your statements. very nice...

Gerry said...

Nice letter Rose. Thanks for writing it. Other Collegian columns from Charles Armstrong are so right-wing extreme that they are inaccurate and fail to look at both sides of an issue.