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Container Recycling Institute (CRI) will be hosting a Webinar that features two NRC Board Members

The Container Recycling Institute (CRI) will be hosting a webinar entitled the “Definition of Recycling” on July 27, 2016. This webinar will feature two NRC Board Members, Fran MacPoland and Stephen Bantillo as panelists for the discussion. The presentation panelists will delve into the definition of recycling.

Learn more about the webinar and register here!


Awards Deadline Extended to July 6, 2016

Last Chance!

The NRC Awards Deadline has been extended until July 6, 2016.

All that needs to be done to nominate a outstanding program or individual is write a 150 word summary and 1000 word document on why they should win! Review the criteria to be included in the documents and submit all documents to this SurveyMonkey form.

Your nominees will thank-you and will be honored at Resource Recycling’s Annual Conference in New Orleans from August 30 – September 1, 2016. Take this extended opportunity to honor a program or individual that deserves it!




Recycling Scholarships Available to New Orleans College Students

Since 1994, the National Recycling Coalition has awarded scholarships to students interested in the recycling field. This year, the NRC is awarding scholarships to qualified New Orleans area students in the amount of $1,500 each. Recipients will also receive complementary admission to the Resource Recycling Conference from August 30th through September 1st. Also included is a one-year membership to the Coalition.

Scholarship applications can be submitted at Applications must be received no later than July 22nd.  Winners will be announced by August 5, 2016.

5th Annual USZWBC National Zero Waste Business Conference

Hoping to tune in and learn what’s new with Zero Waste for your business?  Join the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council ( and industry leaders from across the globe in Austin, Texas June 1-4, 2016 for the 5th annual National Zero Waste Business Conference “Tuning in to Zero Waste.”  The event is conducted by USZWBC and hosted/sponsored by Austin Resource Recovery as a venue for professionals from all sectors (private, public, nonprofit, academia) to expand their Zero Waste knowledge.  The event will provide educational resources, networking opportunities, and professional training for businesses to begin (or fine tune) their efforts to pursue Zero Waste. It will also provide sessions lead by experts on Zero Waste related topics such as operations, economics, policies and more.  Each year, the event grows larger as the value of attending this conference is shared. Stay tuned to the “Zero Waste station” via for more information including early bird registration, sponsorship opportunities, program and much more.

Special offer for NRC network: enter the code “nzwbc16nrc” during registration and a set of 20% off discounted rates will appear!!! Register today at!

National Recycling Coalition Sets Record Straight: NRC Calls Shughart’s Attacks on Recycling Dangerously Misleading

William F. Shughart II’s recent Commentary, “Recycling makes greenies go gaga, but it’s a real burden for the rest of us” is replete with unfounded assumptions, gross generalizations and false statements that are dangerously misleading. We at the National Recycling Coalition know that recycling makes sound environmental policy, as well as sound business practice, resulting in significant environmental and economic benefits within our local communities, across the country and throughout the globe. It is an undisputed truth that more Americans – and more manufacturers – recycle today than in past decades, and they do so for good reason.

If, in fact as Shughart asserts, “the costs associated with the process of recycling almost always outweigh the benefits” why do manufacturers around the world rely on recycled metal, paper, plastic and other commodities for meeting nearly 50% of their raw material needs? Here in the US, steelmakers rely on iron and steel scrap – processed from items as diverse as automobiles, household appliances demolished bridges and old machinery – to make roughly two-thirds of the steel produced in the country every year. One-third of the U.S. aluminum supply comes from soda cans, aluminum siding and other forms of aluminum scrap.

And paper? Shughart’s statement that “it’s more expensive and more resource-intensive to recycle old paper than to cut and pulp pine trees …” is patently false. If it were true why would the US paper industry rely on recovered fiber produced from such items as old newspapers, magazines, catalogs, office paper and used corrugated boxes for more than half of their supply need today? And yes, paper mills are beating down the door to buy quality scrap paper.

Mr. Shughart proclaims that landfilling is better than recycling, conveniently ignoring the environmental costs of landfilling, as well as the financial costs to our communities. According to the USEPA, “nearly 30 organic hazardous air pollutants have been identified in uncontrolled LFG (landfill gas), including benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and vinyl chloride. Exposure to these pollutants can lead to adverse health effects.” Landfills are also the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States. Recycling not only avoids these harmful effects, but also the use of recycled instead of virgin materials. This reduces the production of carbon dioxide by significantly saving the amount of energy needed to manufacture the products that we buy, build and use every day.

A true cost comparison of recycling and landfilling must examine the full costs of those services on a program by program basis. There is great variation across the country. Researching the costs of each program requires an analysis of curbside collection and processing/management costs – however, the majority of recycling programs offer opportunities for revenues to offset some recycling costs – waste to landfill offers no such opportunity.

Recycling is an important economic engine and job creator, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country and generating $11.2 billion in tax revenues for the federal, state and local governments. Every 10,000 metric tons of recyclables generates 37 jobs, which equates to $1.1 million in wages and $330,000 in tax revenues And recycling’s economic benefits can be found in every state across the country.

Recycling also avoids the mining and extraction of raw materials, reducing environmental impacts in communities where mining waste can seriously degrade local landscapes and water resources. Conservation of natural resources is often not “counted” yet is a major benefit of recycling. Through the recycling of aluminum, there is the avoidance of mining bauxite ore. Recycling paper reduces the use of tree pulp. Utilizing recycled glass into new products significantly reduces energy consumption. Far from the “charade” that Shughart claims.

When one looks at the facts, it is clear that recycling makes much more sense than burying or burning our waste. The National Recycling Coalition encourages all Americans to recycle, not just because it seems like the right thing to do but because it makes clear environmental and economic sense.

from the National Recycling Coalition Board of Directors:

Bob Gedert, NRC President
Stephen Bantillo, Executive Director, Recycling Certification Institute
Gary Bilbro, President, SMART Recycling of SC
Robert J. Bylone, Jr., Exec Director and President, Penn Recycling Markets Center
Jeffrey Cooper, Business Development Manager, AECC Group
Jack DeBell, Development Director, University of Colorado Recycling
George Dreckmann, Strategic Initiatives Coordinator, City of Madison, WI
MaryEllen Etienne, CEO, Reuse Institute
John Frederick, Executive Director, Intermunicipal Relations Committee
David Juri Freeman, Recycling Program Manager, City and County of Denver
Marjorie Griek, Principal, Pearl Consulting, LLC
Brent Hildebrand, VP Operations, Alpine Recycling and Waste
Doug Hill, President, EcoVision Environmental
Mark Lichtenstein, Chief of Staff and Executive Director of Sustainability, State
University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Gary Liss, Zero-Waste Consultant, Gary Liss & Associates
Fran McPoland, Vice President, Paper Recycling Coalition & 100 Percent Recycled
Paper Alliance
Michelle Minstrell
Maite Quinn, Business Development and Marketing Manager, Sims Municipal
Antonio Rios, President, Puerto Rico Recycling Coalition
Julie L. Rhodes, President, Julie L. Rhodes Consulting
Will Sagar, Executive Director, Southeast Recycling Development Center
Lisa A. Skumatz, Principal Consultant/Research, Skumatz Economic Research
Associates, and non-profit Econservation Institute
Michael Van Brunt, Director of Sustainability, Covanta
Robin Wiener, President, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries
Melissa Young, Assistant Director, Syracuse University Center for Sustainable
Community Solutions


The National Recycling Coalition is a non-profit organization focused on promoting and enhancing recycling in the United States. Our network of more than 6,000 members extends across waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting.

National Recycling Coalition | 1220 L St NW | Suite 100-155 | Washington, DC 20005 |


New NRC Officers

Congratulations to the new NRC Officers for the 2015-16 year! Officers were elected at the December 10, 2015 NRC Board meeting at Sims Municipal Recycling Facility in Brooklyn, NY.

Chair of the Board: Julie Rhodes
President: Bob Gedert
Executive Vice President/CEO: Marjie Griek
Additional Vice Presidents: Gary Bilbro and Stephen Bantillo
Secretary: Gary Liss
Treasurer: Julie Rhodes
At-large Executive Committee: George Dreckmann, Will Sagar, and Fran McPoland

The National Recycling Coalition 2015 Awards Recipients

This September, The National Recycling Coalition honored recycling awards recipients at the Resource Recycling Conference in Indianapolis. The awards were presented to the recipients at the 2015 Murray J. Fox Scholarship and NRC Annual Awards Luncheon.

The awards program is designed to honor and recognize outstanding individuals, programs, and organizations around the country, both for their achievements, and to serve as a model and a resource for learning for NRC members. Award categories range from higher education, not- for and for-profit organizations, business leadership, as well as recognition of outstanding programs.

NRC’s Awards Committee Chair Lisa Skumatz commented on the process saying of fellow committee members, “They worked long and hard to sort from among several score of submittals to find those shining examples – a task that was made particularly hard because there were so many really stellar nominees.”

2015 Awards and Recipients

  • Outstanding Business Leadership For-Profit Company- Rumpke Inc.
  • Outstanding Not-for-profit Business Leadership- Northeast Recycling Council (NERC)
  • Outstanding Recycling Organization- Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin (AROW)
  • Outstanding Higher Education- Michigan State University’s Surplus Store & Recycling Center
  • Outstanding Community or Government Program- Catawba County Recycling
  • Lifetime Achievement in Recycling- George Dreckmann, City of Madison
  • Murray J. Fox Endowment Scholarship- Ryan Hackbarth, Leah Lahu, Gabrielle Vinyar, Spencer Wesche

Details of the Awards and Winners

Outstanding Business Leadership For-Profit Company

This year, the Outstanding Business Leadership For-Profit Company award, which is awarded to a company showing leadership, innovation, success as model in recycling and diversion, was presented to

Rumpke, Inc. and the Dayton Glass Processing Facility. Mike Bramkamp, regional Vice President of Rumpke Waste & Recycling’s Northwest Market accepted the award at the event.

Operating in Ohio since 1932, Rumpke operates some of the most technologically advanced recycling facilities in the US. With $4 million in upgrades, supported by a $500K grant from Ohio EPA, Rumpke was able to expand – in fact double – their state of the art glass processing facility in Dayton to keep up with the 40,000 tons of glass they collect from about 1.4 million residential and commercial customers from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia. The glass is processed to create a highly-demanded raw material necessary to manufacture fiber glass and container glass and play a key role in stabilizing regional glass markets at a time when many municipalities are removing glass from their list of acceptable materials. Rumpke’s success in glass processing is a model for others in the US to prepare glass for end users.

Outstanding Not-for-profit Business Leadership

The Northeast Recycling Council, or NERC, was the recipient of this award presented to a non-profit company showing leadership, innovation, success as model in recycling and diversion. The Northeast Recycling Council, Inc. (NERC) – now 28 years old! – is a multi-state non-profit organization serving Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

On hand to receive the award was Mary Ann Remolador, Assistant Director & Events Organizer for the Northeast Recycling Council, who commented, “NERC staff is honored to receive the Not-for-Profit Recycling Business award from NRC.  And we are delighted to be recognized by our peers for our work. Thank you.”

In addition to its focus on environmental and economic sustainability through responsible solid waste management, NERC’s mission is to promote sustainable materials management by supporting traditional and innovative solid waste best practices, focusing on waste prevention, EPP, toxics reduction, reuse, recycling and organics recovery.

Outstanding Recycling Organization

This award, which recognizes a State or other recycling organization with outstanding growth, programs, leadership, or contribution and impact in the field, was accepted on behalf of the Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin by Karen Sieg, their Executive Director. “AROW is extremely proud to receive this award, because it represents the great work AROW’s board, staff, committee chairs and members has done to serve our fellow members and to support our industry.”

Now 25 years old, Member-focused Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin, or AROW, has been providing statewide proactive leadership on waste reduction and recycling in Wisconsin. It provides an array of services, including education resources to local government, best practices, advocacy, and a focus on collaboration, networking and “connecting” actors to get materials and get materials to market. AROW has grown from its 20th Century roots to a 21st Century organization focused on promoting a broad range of policies and strives to provide insightful comments and valuable information to legislators, its members and the public and on critical legislation or issues that will affect them and our industry.

Outstanding Higher Education

The Michigan State University’s Surplus Store & Recycling Center (SSRC) won this award for an exceptional program in recycling or in connecting higher education and the industry, in degrees, tech transfer, and career services links. This center processes and markets 9.5 million pounds of recyclables annually, including 4 million pounds from a public drop off center serving 17 different zip codes. The SSRC also processes 10 million pounds of organic waste and reusables annually. Non-traditional materials are processed through a highest and best use model that focuses on reuse first. SSRC’s greatest accomplishments are building a processing center and store, growing its services and increasing diversion with no additional or new funding.

Outstanding Community or Government Program

Catawba County Recycling received this award recognizing a program showing innovation, progress, and success as model for other public programs. There were many factors contributing to NRC’s Awards Committee’s decision to award Catawba County. Recycling and being kind to the environment is the way of life for many Catawban’s, but it’s also about the local government’s commitment to environmental sustainability that contributes to programs overall success. Building a sustainable program….an innovative twist on Recycling and Solid Waste Management…. Catawba County’s EcoComplex components continue to evolve to meet the goal of developing a system that will recover useable products and by-products from private and public partners that will work together to use each other’s waste products either as a source of energy or as a raw material for the manufacture of their own product. The EcoComplex is focused on making and using “green” energy and on the economic development of Catawba County.

Amanda Kain, of Catawba County Recycling accepted the award at the NRC Annual Awards Luncheon. “We are very pleased to win this award that reflects the dedicated efforts of Catawba County citizens, businesses (particularly Republic Services, the County’s solid waste franchisee), school systems and our cities and towns, who have made recycling a very high priority for more than two decades,” said Amanda Kain, Catawba County’s Waste Reduction Coordinator and Educator.

From the many recycling programs offered throughout the county to its innovative EcoComplex and Blackburn Resource Recovery Facility, Catawba County continues to be a leader in recycling, waste reduction and solid waste management.

Lifetime Achievement in Recycling

From the City of Madison Wisconsin, George Dreckmann is NRC’s 2015 winner for Lifetime Achievement in Recycling recognizing his commitment, dedication, and leadership in the field.

Madison began collecting newspapers at the curb in 1968 making it the oldest curbside recycling program in the country. George Dreckmann has led Madison’s recycling program since 1989, with demonstrated leadership, innovation, and an environmental commitment.

Originally Madison relied on a refuse derived fuel program for its waste diversion. George implemented a yard waste recovery system, expanded the curbside program to include a full spectrum of materials, and converted the incineration facility to a transfer station and brush/wood waste recovery facility.     George added household hazardous waste (1990); electronics recycling and medication and sharps drop off (1999); textile and shoe recycling (2006), construction and demolition recycling (2010), and mattress recycling (2013), and an organics collection program is to be rolled out by the end of 2015.

He has led the program to a national leader position — In 2014 65% of its waste was either recycled or composted.   In addition, George has been an active and devoted member and board member of the National Recycling Coalition – and for those who know him, an equally devoted baseball fan!

“I am deeply honored to receive this award,” Dreckmann told the Indianapolis audience.  “This represents recognition for the men and women of the Streets Division and our committed residents who have worked so hard to make our program a success.”

Murray J. Fox Endowment Scholarship

Since 1994, the National Recycling Coalition has awarded scholarships from the Murray J. Fox Endowment to students interested in recycling careers.  This year, four Indianapolis area college students were selected: Ryan Hackbarth and Leah Lahu/ Hanover College, Gabrielle Vinyard/ Butler University, and Spencer Wesche/Franklin College.   In addition to cash scholarships and a one-year membership in the Coalition, Resource Recycling has offered complementary admission to the Resource Recycling Conference.

Notable supporters and contributors of these awards include: Patty Moore, of Moore Recycling Associates, Inc.; award supplier Dan Weisenbach of Weisenbach Recycled Products; Gary Bilbro, President and CEO of SMART Recycling of South Carolina; Mark Lichtenstein, President and CEO of the NRC, and from Syracuse University Sustainability; Margie Griek, Executive Director of the Colorado Association for Recycling; Robin Weiner, President of ISRI, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries; Jack DeBell, Recycling Manager from the University of Colorado – Boulder; Arley Owens, President and CEO of Earth Green Team; Lisa Skumatz, Principal of Skumatz Economic Research Associates

The National Recycling Coalition congratulates all of this year’s winners!

EPA Releases New Sustainable Materials Management Program Strategic Plan

This week the United States Environmental Protection Agency released their new Sustainable Materials Management Program (SMM) Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2017 through 2022. See below for the email from Assistant Administrator of the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Mathy Stanislaus, introducing the plan.

Dear Colleagues,
I am pleased to share with you the EPA’s new Sustainable Materials Management Program (SMM) Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2017 through 2022. This strategic plan represents the collective thinking of EPA staff and management across the country, as well as input from many stakeholders including states, industry, and non-governmental organizations. The life-cycle based decision-making and systems-based approaches of SMM reflected in this strategic plan offer far greater opportunities for addressing the complex environmental issues we face today than traditional resource, waste and chemicals management approaches. SMM truly represents a change in how we think about environmental impacts and economic opportunities.

The three main strategic priorities chosen as the focus for the EPA’s future SMM efforts present significant opportunities to achieve environmental, economic, and social results. They are:
The Built Environment — conserve materials and develop community resiliency to climate change through improvements to construction, maintenance, and end-of-life management of our nation’s roads, buildings, and infrastructure;
Sustainable Food Management — focus on reducing food loss and waste; and
Sustainable Packaging — increase the quantity and quality of materials recovered from municipal solid waste and develop critically important collection and processing infrastructure.
In addition to these strategic priorities, we will continue work in our other SMM emphasis areas including sustainable electronics management, materials measurement, life cycle assessment, and SMM international efforts. Our international efforts include participation in the G7 Alliance on Resource Efficiency that provides a forum to exchange and promote best practices with business and other stakeholders to address the challenges of SMM.

The work that you do is critical to advancing SMM. You know that SMM principles and approaches must be applied at all levels, from the local community to the global economy. Our strategic plan outlines priority areas and includes many examples of potential actions at various levels. Over the next 12-18 months we will be undertaking activities to obtain input and feedback from organizations such as yours on specific efforts we can undertake together to achieve our shared SMM goals. I ask that you share our Strategic Plan with your networks.

Thank you for your continued and important work in this area. If you have any questions, would like to provide input, or share your ideas for how we can work together to implement this strategic plan, please feel free to contact me or Kathleen Salyer, Deputy Director of the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. She can be reached at [email protected] or 703-308-8895.

Mathy Stanislaus
Assistant Administrator
Office of Solid Waste & Emergency Response

View the full plan here.

An Open Letter: National Recycling Coalition’s Response to Media Attacks on Recycling

COE 10th Annual Symposium on Environmental & Energy SystemsJohn Tierney’s effrontery with his “The Reign of Recycling” piece in the New York Times (10/3/15) has once again become evident with his feeble attempt to lay waste to the recycling industry, this after his  original 1996 piece in the New York Times Magazine, “Recycling is Garbage.”

“Whether it’s by national newspapers, network TV, or conservative think tanks, attacking recycling has long been a popular way to make headlines. As we recycling professionals know, the overwhelming majority of these attacks are based either on over simplifications of complex environmental issues, or on political philosophies out of step with mainstream America. The sound bites are hard to beat: ‘Recycling is a waste of time. There is no landfill crisis. Recycling doesn’t save trees’. These statements are both short and provocative–in other words, perfect for the news media. The idea of bashing recycling is so compelling that ‘the evils of recycling mania’ is even used as an example of how to get publicity by being contrarian in Jay Levenson’s popular ‘Guerilla Marketing’ series (National Recycling Coalition-NRC, 2000).”

Attached and at is a fact sheet produced in 2000 where we at the NRC “recommended a five-part strategy to respond nationally and locally to attacks on recycling. Since most decisions about recycling programs are made at the local level, we suggest that you spend most of your energy responding locally, even to national attacks. We also offer some sound bites of our own in response to ten of the most frequent attacks on recycling. These can be used in your letters to the editor, talking points for interviews with reporters, and speech notes for local leaders (NRC, 2000).” Even though we’ve extracted these quotes from a document NRC developed 15 years ago, many points still resonate now. Today, we understand even more than we did in 2000 about how misinformed attacks undermine the investments, job creation, tax contribution, pollution reduction, and other benefits of recycling.

The National Recycling Coalition

The NRC, Inc. is a nonprofit organization formed in 1978 focused on the reduction of waste and sound management practices for raw materials. We work to maintain a prosperous and productive American recycling system that is committed to the conservation of natural resources and to building a foundation for an environmentally sustainable economy. We are unique in that we represent and facilitate activities among businesses and manufacturers, environmental groups, industry trade associations, nonprofit organizations, and representatives from all levels of government. At NRC’s core is a multitude of affiliated state-level recycling organizations. Our network extends across waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting activities.

We understand recycling and the sustainable management of materials.

First Hand Experience

Personally, I started my first recycling program in 1981. I have nearly two decades of experience working in an internationally recognized regional solid waste management system that included a “state-of-the-art” landfill, waste-to-energy facility, transfer and trucking operations, and centralized composting and recycling facilities. I’ve helped establish sustainable materials management and recycling programs in the US, Caribbean, and throughout Central and South America. These are the types of facilities and programs journalist Tierney from the Times talks about from afar.

Unlike a maverick journalist like Tierney writing from the bleachers, I’m no different–and my experiences are no different–than the thousands of others represented by the NRC who directly face 24/7 challenges about how to deal with our discarded materials. Tierney is an aberration, one who did all of us a disservice, but he also provided us an opportunity to articulate why what we do is so important.

Initial Flaws of Tierney’s Case

Tierney’s erroneous depiction does not describe the recycling in America that we know. In fact, most American communities have found positive economic success in administering recycling programs that require minimal sorting. Those of us in this industry, including our colleagues at the City of San Francisco, Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR), Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Mid-America Council of Recycling Officials, Northeast Recycling Council, Recycling Partnership, Reuse Institute, Solid Waste Association of North America, Southeast Recycling Development Council, US Composting Council, Zero Waste International Alliance, Zero Waste USA, and many others will continue to do an effective job of dispensing with Tierney’s half-truths, non-supported “research,” and specious arguments. We all know that the premise of his misinformation campaign–that recycling is both economically and environmentally ill advised–is a non sequitur.

Tierney wields an accusation of motivated reasoning, that “we” have blindly recycled based on emotional irrationality. If he and the Times had done appropriate due diligence, we know they would have found that recycling is an issue that resonates and is economically defensible throughout the US, not just among the recycling acolytes of tony Park Slope in Brooklyn or San Francisco, but in cities like Indianapolis, where a national recycling conference (organized by Resource Recycling) was held the week before his article appeared in the Times. Had Tierney attended, he could have met with recycling businesses and others who employ some of the estimated 471,587 direct and indirect jobs, and responsible for at least $106 billion in annual economic activity in the US associated with recycling (ISRI). He could have talked with members of state and local governments who would have described their successes and failures. Instead, Tierney continued to paint his recycling canvas with one brush and one color.

Clearly, we all know that if recycling were economically counter-productive, the industries we collectively represent would have closed their doors long ago. We have been in this business for more than a century and have survived even without Tierney’s inaccurate economic pronouncements. In fact, our industry is as large as the American automobile industry (EPA), and many businesses are now saving millions of dollars by focusing on reducing, reusing, recycling, and pursuing Zero Waste principles.

Particularly farfetched is his assertion that we should calculate the value of reducing our carbon emissions with how much carbon is comparatively offset by recycling 40,000 plastic bottles vs. the carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by one passenger on a flight to Europe. I welcome the opportunity to explore more germane comparisons with the Times and others, such as the savings of CO2 for every ton of paperboard that is recycled (over three tons), driving a car, or heating and lighting your house. In addition, “Tierney falls short in his analysis of the environmental impact of recycling. Nearly all independent studies, including those by EPA, have shown that recycling offers superior environmental benefits to landfilling and incineration. Further, utilizing recycled materials reduces energy requirements and greenhouse gas emissions in many manufacturing processes when compared to using virgin materials (ISRI).”

The Myth of the “Welcomed” Landfill and others have debunked much of Tierney’s vacuous and naïve comments about landfills. We need to continue to shine light on the following dark, farcical statements of his:

“A modern well-lined landfill in a rural area can have relatively little environmental impact.”

“Landfills are ‘welcomed’ in rural areas…they have plenty of greenery to buffer residents from sights and smells.”

A contention that landfills are “welcomed” in many communities seriously understates the long-term liabilities associated with landfills and other disposal facilities. It does not effectively consider important economic externality valuations, and quality of life issues. Underserved populations, including the impoverished, minorities, and others with little political power are disproportionately affected by such facilities. Tierney inexcusably looks the other way regarding the serious social and environmental justice imbalance that we know exists in all too many neighborhoods across America. Further, he ignores the fact that many of these landfills are owned by profit-driven corporations with shareholders disconnected from the host communities who are forever cursed by the trash that lies beneath them. Tierney also neglected to discuss the context of how the extraction of raw materials in many cases also leads to the decay of society and local communities, and how there are 71 tons buried along the way from mining, manufacturing, and distribution of products for every ton buried locally (ILSR). It’s inconceivable that in 2015 we still hear these tired, baseless, and offensive comments. It’s time we bring these inequities into the light.

A Tour of the Real World

I have proposed to the New York Times that they accompany me on an excursion to visit communities hosting the sparkling facilities Tierney constructs in his Utopian world. We’ll go to wonderful communities in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes Region that “host” two of the nation’s largest landfills. We’ll talk to people in these “greenery-filled” communities who can’t open their windows during the beautiful New York summer because of the rancid odor. We’ll look at the impact on roads from the never-ending train of tractor trailers taking a 12-hour round-trip carrying discarded materials from New York City to this sacred land of the Haudenosaunee, and where–among other historically significant events–the Women’s Suffrage movement started. We’ll have a serious talk about the economic hubris and carbon impact of this craziness.

We’ll then take a trip to the rural Tug Hill Region of New York where I’ll show the Times two other “state-of-the-art” landfills. More importantly, we’ll also talk to people living near these facilities. We’ll work hard to find the people forced to leave their homes when a landfill was built in their backyard. I’ll take them to another landfill in a suburban community near Albany. We’ll stop in a densely populated neighborhood directly adjacent to the landfill and I’ll explain with vivid examples what externality impacts and costs really mean.

We’ll then head to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands to visit the only landfill on that island, and I’ll introduce them to local residents from the underserved community there tirelessly fighting to change their horrible reality (its certainly not Tierney’s Utopia). I’ll facilitate a discussion with representatives, including youth leaders, of Basura Cero (Zero Waste) in Puerto Rico, working hard to prevent a massive waste-to-energy facility from being built in Arecibo. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to the articulate and well-reasoned arguments fueling a passion and desire to preserve their community. I could take you to sites all across the US–suburban, rural, and urban–and provide many more examples of how landfills, and those in the business of trash reduce the quality of life for those living nearby.

What the Times published was an absolute affront to all these communities, and I look forward to The New York Times Company taking me up on my offer to help them reach the people who actually live near these facilities. These people will provide real-life “data” for a story. This will be a story diametrically different than one written by someone in an isolated, comfortable office far from the plume of reality real people are facing every day.

It is no shock to those of us in the trenches that segments of our industry are experiencing unique challenges these days as a result of a changing business model and increasing quality concerns. “Decreased commodity prices combined with the decision of some municipalities to collect recyclables in the same bin as waste materials affect both the economics and the technological feasibility of recycling (ISRI).” So too does the lack of a level playing field laced with the reality of subsidies on virgin materials, and the incomplete accounting of the true and full cost of disposal alternatives like landfills, waste transfer stations, and waste-to-energy (externality costs). Disposal of discarded materials-a multi-billion dollar industry-provides little societal benefit and far more societal risks than a system that capitalizes on materials as commodities generating genuine value. The same can be said for raw material extraction and processing compared to a manufacturing supply-chain utilizing recyclable materials.

It’s about Materials and Resources, not Waste

We as a commodities industry have faced issues like the cyclic nature of our markets and many other challenges in the past. We understand that we are part of an ever-changing supply and value chain. Today, like in the past, these concerns don’t indicate the demise of recycling. We can and must address ever-evolving challenges of our unique industry. “Let’s focus on what works and develop the processes and technology needed to expand recycling. Turning our backs on recycling altogether now would significantly hurt the US balance of trade, the recycling industry, the environment, and sustainable materials management. That would be a major step backward for our country (ISRI).”

We are not some haughty group, pursuing a spiritual mission of recycling because we are ignorant, or have some inside scoop and know better than everyone else. We do, however, recognize that we need to work much harder at front-of-the-pipe solutions. Tierney completely ignores the changing nature of materials and the “evolving ton,” the immense research and development around new materials–materials being designed for recycling, for the environment. He misses the boat on the nascent circular economy, and the associated role of the emerging solution of sustainable materials management. He does not address how discarded materials can help augment local economies. He ignores the inexcusable human habit of creating waste–waste, something Nature does not recognize–of “disposing” materials that have great value as commodities, not to be buried or burned.

Perilously Promoting “Disassociation”

Tierney infers that we need to make it easier for people to get rid of their “stuff.” We agree that convenience and the effective use of an individual’s time sorting materials are important considerations; however, Tierney inappropriately skirts one of our greatest challenges in this field, the increasing trend toward “disassociation.” The last thing we need to do is further separate the generator of discarded materials from the costs and realities of that place called “away”–a place that simply does not exist. (One person’s “away,” after all, is someone else’s “here.”) We do a great disservice propagating the falsehood, and propping-up ignorance around the fallacy that disposal options such as landfills and waste-to-energy facilities have minimal effects on the environment and society. The notion that disposal is economically more attractive than reducing, and developing creative reuse and repurpose programs for our materials, designing better materials, and yes, maximizing appropriate recycling and composting, is patently false.

Thinking back to when I publicly took issue with Tierney’s words in 1996, and considering his recent article, I see him to be implacable and unchangeable. His “piece relies on the intellectually dishonest tactic common in anti-environment screeds of criticizing an environmental solution for its imperfections instead of comparing to a real world alternative (” such as those I outlined. We need to rise above the predetermined structure of arguments the John Tierney’s of the world create for us. They give us false choices, and the debate they construct and foster is moot. We have to reframe the discussion. A shift in paradigms is needed, which Tierney’s recent diatribe clearly supports.

To that end, the NRC is solidifying a partnership with the US Environmental Protection Agency, and in the coming months will host an important meeting in New York City–the media capital of the US–to shed more truth, and talk through all these issues. In addition to people and organizations directly involved in recycling, we are inviting the New York Times and others representing a spectrum of views. Our intent is to continue accelerating the sustainable management of materials across America.

Yours in sustainable materials management,

Mark Lichtenstein
President and CEO, National Recycling Coalition, Inc.

Adjunct Professor, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

[email protected]