Report Finds Recycling, Waste Increasing

Although Americans are setting new recycling records, product and packaging waste is increasing, according to a report released in March by the Athens, Ga.-based GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN).

GRRN is a four-year-old network of recycling and community-based activists who advocate policies and practices to achieve "zero waste," and eliminate waste in society.

According to the organization's report, "Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000," Americans kept 28 percent of municipal refuse out of landfills and incinerators in 1997, nearly triple the recycling rate in 1980. Recycled paper alone has saved more than 3 billion trees since 1990, the equivalent of a forest 16 times the size of Yosemite National Park. However, Americans spent $43.5 billion on garbage disposal last year, the report states.

Consequently, GRRN's report provides a review of progress in recycling and environmental impacts of wasting resources, and presents a strategy for eliminating waste. Researched and written by the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), analysis in the report was based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., and other published sources.

"Unfortunately, our recycling efforts nationally have been one step forward, one step back," says Brenda Platt, lead author of the report and director of materials recovery at the ILSR. "More than 9,300 communities provided curbside recycling by 1998, compared to a handful in the 1970s. An estimated 150 million Americans recycle."

But while recycling increased, waste in landfills and incinerators increased by 4.4 million tons between 1996 and 1997, according to the report.

"One of the key findings of our research is that the benefits of recycling also are far greater than previously thought and go far beyond keeping materials from landfill disposal or incineration," says Neil Seldman, co-author of the report, and co-founder and board member of GRRN.

GRRN identifies several factors adversely affecting recycling and waste reduction, including: * Corporations backing away from commitments to use recycled materials in products and packaging;

* Subsidies for virgin resource extraction and waste disposal that put recycling at a competitive disadvantage, including $2.6 billion in federal taxpayer subsidies; and

* Products and packaging made with colored resins or labels, or caps that cannot be recycled.

Nevertheless, "Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000" documents that many businesses and communities are setting records in recycling and waste reduction.

"Fifteen years ago, a 25 percent recycling [rate] was thought to be the limit or to reach higher would mean astronomical costs. Today, we know otherwise," says ILSR's Platt. "Hundreds of businesses and communities have cut their waste in half and saved money."

GRRN's report shows that the keys to successful waste reduction and recycling are setting public policy goals backed by mandates or incentives such as beverage container deposits, and creating incentives for market-based solutions. It concludes with an Agenda for Action, which proposes a four-part government strategy to achieve zero waste.

Copies of "Wasting and Recycling in the United States 2000" can be ordered from GRRN, P.O. Box 49283, Athens, Ga. 30604. Phone: (706) 613-7121. Fax: (706) 613-7123. E-mail: [email protected] Website: