NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Recycling Drawbacks

March 19, 2002

Americans have a misplaced trust in the environmental benefits of recycling their metals, glass and plastics, many city officials have discovered to their dismay. The main problem is the expense.

  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a temporary suspension of some of that city's recycling in order to save taxpayers $57 million.
  • Recycling entails so much energy, water and labor to collect, sort, clean and process the materials that many public officials now realize most mandated recycling hurts, rather than helps, the environment.
  • About 40 percent of the New York's glass, metal and plastic waste is not suitable for recycling -- so it ends up in landfills anyway.
  • But new technologies have transformed the nature of landfills from the malodorous dumps of the past into almost scenic spots.

Communities in Virginia are reaping big money by accepting New York City trash. Virginia's seven regional landfills employ hundreds of residents, pay out millions in annual wages and bring in more than $500 million annually to the state. Landfill fees enabled one county to build a new courthouse and a school -- at the same time cutting real estate taxes by about one-third.

Studies have shown that 80 percent of landfills in existence in 1991 posed a risk of cancer of less than one in a million -- equivalent to the risk of getting cancer from drinking a half liter of wine in a year's time.

Recycling is an article of faith to Green activists. But as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said in 1996, "It is impossible to reach a mandated recycling level unless you take all the people in New York, put them in prison, and force them to recycle."

Source: Angela Logomasini (Competitive Enterprise Institute), "Forced Recycling Is a Waste," Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2002.


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