Market forces should challenge us to redouble our efforts on zero waste
China sensibly deciding not to absorb the world’s trash gives us a unique chance to recalibrate our efforts toward big policy shifts and our collective duty to address the waste crisis (“Reckoning comes for recycling programs: Soaring collection costs leave communities at a loss,” Page A1, Jan. 12).
Recycling is in the middle of the “zero waste” hierarchy; the first priority is reducing waste upstream, followed by reuse and repair, and only then recycling. Last, of course, is disposal.
Building smart systems that reduce waste in the first place means we don’t have to scramble at the municipal level. A policy concept called “extended producer responsibility” provides incentives for manufacturers to produce only the most essential and nontoxic materials.
Advocates are waiting to see whether the state Department of Environmental Protection’s imminent Solid Waste Master Plan for 2020-2030 will seize this moment to move Massachusetts boldly toward zero waste. We also have individual roles: addressing our out-of-control consumption habits, simplifying lifestyles, and addressing our addictions to luxury and convenience.
Here’s to a decade of moving away from waste and pollution, and toward a sustainable circular economy.
Co-coordinator, Zero Waste Boston Coalition
Clean Water Action
Push for accountability, from industry to individuals
Re “Reckoning comes for recycling programs” by David Abel: Just as the prevalence of plastics is choking our seas, killing marine life, and permeating our bodies with microplastics, the recycling industry is threatened by a range of challenges. If we can’t foist our waste on China, the answer, now, must be accountability by plastic manufacturers, those who package products, and consumers.
Plastic manufacturers must be required to use recycled materials and re-create or expand that market in this country. (Isn’t jobs creation forever a political talking point? Here’s an opportunity in a critical arena.)
All industries must significantly reduce plastic packaging.
And finally, importantly, we all must take responsibility by forcing these steps through our purchasing power, making choices that reward minimal packaging that uses compostable and recycled materials.
Consider cost savings of avoiding pricier trash disposal
One of the longtime frustrations for those of us who have worked on financial analyses of recycling programs is how cost avoidance is almost never mentioned as a gain from recycling. Last Sunday’s front-page article is no exception.
Cost avoidance is the gain in a recycling program that comes about because a ton of recyclables will not have to be disposed of as trash, something that can be quite expensive. This is often the largest gain from recycling. If you have to pay a tipping fee of $100 per ton for trash at a regional landfill, and also have to pay transportation costs, you may be talking $150 a ton for disposal. Even if you give away the recyclables to a local dealer, you still will have gained this $150 for each ton you give away.
I’m not familiar with the examples in the article. It appears, however, that at no point was cost avoidance raised with local officials. I’m not sure how the numbers would work if this gain had been included; for example, in Holyoke, where officials are facing annual recycling costs of at least $160,000, what would it cost to get rid of all the recyclables as trash? This should be part of the discussion.