Too Good To Throw Away
Recycling's Proven Record
IN DEFENSE OF RECYCLING
In the next century, recycling will not be the subject of speculation and study. It simply will be a fact of life. That's good news for America, and especially good news for New York and the Northeast, which are uniquely situated to benefit both economically and environmentally from a renewed commitment to conservation and reuse of our resources.
The United States generates more garbage, per capita, than any nation. In the last twenty years, recycling rates in this country have risen to nearly 24 percent. In New York, we've achieved a recycling rate of 35 percent, and we are committed to even greater recycling in coming years through state support of local recycling efforts. Recycled waste is diverted from landfills and incinerators and put to economically productive use, creating new industries and jobs along the way. In order to maximize the benefits we can achieve from recycling, we need to renew our commitment to it in New York and across the country.
Recently, some have questioned the value of recycling, which has generated a healthy public debate. But in that discussion, too many facts have been overlooked or misconstrued by those opposed to our efforts. We should engage in an open and honest debate, which can only result in one conclusion: Recycling makes sense.
Recycling opponents argue that recycling is more expensive than simply dumping trash in the ground. That's not news -- where recycling is cheaper than dumping or burning, it has generally been the preferred alternative; everything else has been buried or incinerated. Recycling opponents conclude, therefore, that recycling is a waste of energy and money.
But viewing solid waste management merely on a dollars-per-ton basis leads to simplistic analysis. There are costs, real costs, associated with squandering resources and continuing wasteful, outdated practices. One of the consistent and fair criticisms of government is that it generally fails to look at the long term. The long term has driven public policy on recycling, and now we are being assailed for not being short-sighted enough.
The public has been greatly supportive of recycling programs, recognizing that reuse and recycling is a net gain for the economy and the environment. By reusing materials found in the waste stream, recycling conserves our precious natural resources and reduces the demand for landfill space and incineration capacity.
Recycling also contributes to economic development. Numerous studies have documented the billions of dollars invested by industries that recycle and the thousands of jobs they have created. In addition, many new and exciting technologies have been developed to deal with our waste stream, fostering new forms of recycling and economic opportunity.
To a conservationist, a resource is a resource -- whether it comes from the ground or out of the waste stream. Recycling is a commitment to adding value to a resource that otherwise would be discarded, a resource that the Northeast has in abundance. Through that commitment, we have created a fast-growing industrial sector tied to the region's resources, providing thousands of industrial jobs in an area that has too long suffered from the flight of industry.
In New York State, industries old and new have taken advantage of the tremendous growth in availability of recyclable materials. Paper companies have made multimillion dollar investments in recycled paper, not because government mandated it, but because consumers demanded it. With the growth of the steel minimill, recycling isn't just a good idea, it's a manufacturing necessity. Likewise, tire recycling is the only answer to a problem that can't be solved by traditional disposal at a landfill.
But recycling is more than an environmental and economic issue, it is part of our legacy to the next generation. We need to make Americans more aware of the value of recycling and pass that knowledge on to our children. Only through a fundamental rethinking of our approach to waste can we preserve precious open space and protect our air, land, and water.
This report is invaluable because it debunks the claims of recycling opponents who misinterpret the facts and mislead the public about the benefits of recycling. The report makes a valuable contribution to public debate about conserving our resources and protecting our environment.
Let us learn from the words of President Theodore Roosevelt who said, "Neither man nor nation can prosper unless, in dealing with the present, thought is steadily taken for the future."
George E. Pataki
The State of New York
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