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Recycling criticism contained faulty logic

The Albuquerque Journal printed William F. Shughart II’s opinion piece, “Recycling makes greenies go gaga, but it’s a real burden for the rest of us,” on Dec. 26. The article displayed a tortured logic and ridiculous analysis of the recycling industry.

It discounts the energy savings from recycled commodities by conflating energy savings with economic incentives. This is a false correlation and a misleading approach.

Shughart states, “if it was cost-effective to recycle scrap paper, producers would be beating down your door to buy it … that means it’s more expensive and more resource-intensive to recycle old paper than to cut and pulp pine trees …”

Not only does this statement falsely equate expense with resource-intensive processes it also just gets the facts wrong.

According to the American Forest and Paper Association domestic paper mills consume 30.5 million tons of recycled paper each year and rely on fiber produced from old newspapers, magazines, catalogs, office paper and used corrugated boxes for more than half of their supply needs today.

It is obvious that companies are indeed beating down doors to buy recycled paper.

Additionally, Shughart ignores the numerous benefits of recycling including conservation of water and natural resources, job creation and saving taxpayer dollars.

While ignoring such benefits he conveniently neglects to describe the full-cost accounting of disposing waste in landfills, not to mention the environmental and health related costs.

Landfills are expensive. Full cost accounting considers the lifespan cost of landfills from front-end costs to operational and back end costs like remediation and monitoring which can continue into perpetuity.

Shughart also ignores the significant health and welfare costs associated with landfills.

According to the EPA nearly 30 harmful air pollutants have been identified in uncontrolled landfill gas, including benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and vinyl chloride. In the United States landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions – a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Shughart attempts, through illogical correlations, to make recycling seem like an impractical and inefficient activity when in fact it is a multi-billion dollar industry that creates nearly 500,000 jobs and generates $11.2 billion in tax revenue for federal, state and local governments (Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries).

In the Land of Enchantment, a 2013 study conducted by the New Mexico Recycling Coalition found that if New Mexico’s recycling rate were to increase to the national average of 34 percent, then it would create close to 5,000 new direct, indirect and induced jobs within New Mexico.

The same study found that in 2010, New Mexico buried $168 million worth of valuable recyclable materials in landfills and spent $51 million to do so.

Shughart’s logic is like saying fast food is bad for you, but it’s cheaper than fresh food so it must be better. One can only imagine why Shughart chose recycling as the target of his ill-conceived diatribe or why it was published in newspapers across the country.

To be generous, one possible answer is that recycling markets are currently at the lowest point they’ve been within the past few years. Like any other commodities market, highs and lows can be expected and are dictated by the productivity of the larger economy.

If we want to have a productive conversation about waste policies in this country we should be discussing topics such as incentive-based waste disposal fees (Pay-As-You-Throw); extended producer responsibility (requiring producers to create a mechanism and funding to take back their product for recycling); universal recycling (requiring all solid waste haulers to provide recycling containers and collection offered as one joint solid waste fee); and including the costs of the externalities that Shughart ignores into the cost of waste disposal.

Let’s not be myopic: Oil won’t always be cheap, carbon pollution won’t always be free and space for our society’s garbage won’t always be available.

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