The news media have promoted a misleading notion that the United States is in the throes of a solid waste crisis, according to a recent study by the Center for Science, Technology & Media. Furthermore, the media have exaggerated the benefits of curbside recycling while virtually ignoring other waste-handling procedures, reported the Washington, D.C.-based research organization that compares ex-perts' views of science and technology with relevant news media coverage.
While the volume and tone of news coverage suggests a national catastrophe (with recycling as the solution), 69 percent of respondents disagree that the country is experiencing a solid waste crisis and 40 percent believe that this terminology drastically overstates the issue.
Commissioned by the Center for Science, Technology & Media, the Roper Center's national random survey of 412 experts from the Solid Waste Association of North America and Who's Who in En-vironmental Engineering found that 63 percent of respondents be-lieve that the news media overstate the economic benefits of recycling. In fact, 48 percent of the experts think that recycling costs a lot more than it saves and only 19 percent believe that it significantly helps the environment. The press, however, has given more coverage to the environmental benefits of re-cycling than to those who believe that there are none, according to the Center for Media and Public Af-fairs.
Recycling is still emerging as a science, according to the experts who contend that the engineering and economic aspects of recycling remain obscure. Despite this relative obscurity, coverage has fo-cused on efforts to accelerate recycling, mandate a minimum level of recycled materials for products and to define recycling terms.
Source reduction was cited as a probable solution to reducing the country's solid waste, according to the survey. Forty percent of the respondents suggested that product redesign, or reducing the a-mount of materials that comprise products, can significantly contribute to the environment while 47 percent suggested precycling to re-duce the amount of packaging.
When asked to assess source re-duction's place in the solid waste world, 94 percent of the experts said that reducing packaging is im-portant and 96 percent rated product redesign as important. The press, on the other hand, reportedly has overlooked the need for this step. Of the more than 500 news stories reviewed, source reduction was mentioned only 44 times.
Although the study's experts were split about whether recycling will play a major role in handling municipal solid waste, recycling has become an alternative to landfilling municipal solid waste.
From January 1991 to June 1993, the Center's news media analysts reviewed more than 500 news stories that were aired on ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts and printed in the Associated Press wire reports, the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Newsweek, US News and World Report and Time Magazine.