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Vying for sound bites. (Editor's Focus).

Recycling activists often sound an alarm that recycling, as an issue of environmental policy, has dropped off the front page. It is difficult to argue this notion, although the past 12 months may have seen a slight re-emergence of recycling as a policy issue with the re-consideration of New York City's recycling program and the hearings concerning a national bottle bill taking place in the U.S. Senate.

Nonetheless, recycling has become a matter of routine for many homeowners (or something to ignore for others), and the attention of the general public has moved on to other governmental and environmental issues during the past 15 years.

At industry events where recyclers on the municipal collection side of the industry gather, creating a"buzz" about recycling is a topic of conversation. Addressing a recent gathering of recyclers held by NYSAR (3) (New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse & Recycling Inc.), Michael Alexander of the National Recycling Coalition, Washington, noted that the Senate hearings on the proposed bottle bill were the first hearings relating to recycling to take place in Congress in the past 10 years.

Addressing the same assembly of recyclers, Janet Lee Burnet, a Senior Program Assistant with the Rockland County (N.Y.) Solid Waste Management Authority, noted that most members of the general public are unaware of the extent of agreement between government and business leaders when it comes to issues of recycling and waste disposal.

Certainly, within the recycling and industrial communities, there are still plenty of contentious issues. (For a small dose, check out the comments of James Burke of SP Newsprint, starting on page 58 of this issue.) But for the most part, the merits of single-stream versus traditional processing, or whether waste-to-energy and landfill cover uses qualify as recycling, are not debates in which most members of the general public will become involved.

The wider establishment of recycling as a sound waste management practice by most corporations is perhaps a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the publicity generated by debate and controversy is missing. On the other, the established markets mean there are corporate dollars and lobbying efforts in place aligned with recycling rather than against it.

A challenge for municipal program coordinators and advocates will be tapping these corporations for funding help, and convincing them it is in their best interests to do so. Such efforts, at the very least, will allow municipal and corporate recyclers to find out to what extent the material collected through curbside programs is actually wanted by the paper, metals, plastic and glass industries.

Taxpayers and elected officials have been persuaded that curbside recycling is sound for both the environment and the economy. But if it turns out the economic underpinnings exist for some materials but are absent with others, it's time to open up the books and acknowledge this. It is questionable policy to pretend there are end markets for some materials simply because the curbside bin has room for them. Until these industries genuinely establish a closed loop, it might be best to leave that space for the materials that are actually wanted.

The American public then at least will know the truth about which industries deservedly put the "chasing arrows" logo on their products, and which are just playing along for public relations purposes.
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Article Details
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Author:Taylor, Brian
Publication:Recycling Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2002
Words:549
Previous Article:Clean & healthy: keeping a paper recycling plant clean goes hand-in-hand with keeping it safe. (2002 Paper Recycling Supplement).
Next Article:ForestExpress touts transaction volume. (Scrap Industry News).
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