Regarding the Oct. 19 column “The reign of recycling” by John Tierney: Recent media reports have painted a confusing and misinformed picture of recycling, calling it wasteful, ineffective and costly. These articles completely overlook recycling’s positive economic impact on the U.S. economy.
The reality is that recycling in the United States is a vibrant activity and a key driver in domestic and global manufacturing, supplying over 130 million tons annually of scrap metals, paper, electronics, plastics, rubber, glass and textiles for manufacture into new products. The business of recycling represents nearly $106 billion in annual economic activity and is responsible for 471,587 direct and indirect U.S. jobs, generating over $4.3 billion in state and local revenues annually, and another $6.76 billion in federal taxes.
The environmental impact of recycling cannot be ignored. Recycling is an important part of our national infrastructure, providing an effective and currently irreplaceable means of reducing landfill space and transforming end-of-life products into valuable materials used to manufacture new products.
Numerous independent studies have shown that recycling offers environmental benefits over landfilling and incineration. Among the most important are the reduction in energy use to manufacture with recycled feedstock (vs. virgin material) and the dramatic reduction in air pollutants, including greenhouse gas emissions, as a result of reduced energy usage.
The EPA found that municipal recycling and composting in 2013 reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 186 million tons, comparable to annual emissions from over 39 million automobiles.
Yes, some segments of the recycling industry, particularly those that handle municipal recyclables, are currently experiencing unique challenges as a result of a changing business model and increasing quality concerns.However, it is important to recognize that entities involved with municipal recycling are taking proactive steps to address program funding and material quality to offset lower commodity prices.
By narrowly focusing on certain negative details while lumping everything else together, the media reports effectively discourage people from recycling altogether. This would be a major setback for U.S. residents and future generations.
With America Recycles Day approaching on Nov. 15, let’s focus on what works, address the challenges, better engage the public on what to recycle and develop the processes, technology and markets needed to expand robust, sustainable recycling.
Turning our backs on recycling altogether would be a major step backward for our country and the health of the planet.
Robin K. Wiener
President, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries
Jennifer M. Jehn
President and CEO, Keep America Beautiful
This letter was also signed by David Biderman, executive director and CEO, Solid Waste Association of North America. The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the column.