ALEXANDRIA, VA. — The National Recycling Coalition Inc. aims to level the playing field for recycled products by examining government policies it says give virgin production an advantage.
Precisely what that leveling will entail is to be determined, but NRC leaders have made it one of their top priorities and say it could include seeking to change government procurement policies to boost recycled markets and researching tax subsidies they say benefit makers of virgin materials.
While it is a priority, NRC officials say it may not have universal agreement among the board, a diverse group that includes people with strong ties to industry groups such as the American Plastics Council, municipal officials and environmental organizations such as the Grassroots Recycling Network. The board mem- bers are elected as individuals by the group members but many work in recycling-related jobs.
Raising the issue of advantages virgin companies may have ``is real touch and go, I'm not going to lie to you,'' said Susan Hubbard, NRC President and technical/recycling coordinator for the Four County Regional Solid Waste Management District in Fayetteville, Ark. But she said ``we are not doing enough there. We know that.''
``We want to move it forward,'' she said. ``We want to find the common ground'' with industry groups such as Washington-based APC.
NRC Executive Director William Ferretti said NRC will focus in 1997 on federal purchasing policies, including pressing agencies to do a better job of implementing an executive order from President Clinton on recycled purchases. But because members keep raising the issue of how much impact subsidies for virgin materials have on the recycled market the group wants to develop information for members and put together a ``full-cost accounting method'' that municipalities can use to determine the costs of garbage disposal and recycling.
An NRC board member who works at APC, Andrea Wood, said the subsidy issue needs looking at but cautioned that no solid evidence exists that tax subsidies and other programs benefit virgin production at the expense of recycling. Wood said she was speaking only as an NRC official.
``I think that the issue is that none of us — whether it's the industry or the environmental community — have enough information,'' said Wood, who is the deputy director of durables at APC. ``There are some individuals who say it could have an impact on recycling and some who say it doesn't.''
Some research suggests that tax benefits lower the cost of virgin materials but the issue is complicated, said Jeffrey Morris, an economist with Sound Resources Management in Seattle, Wash. One study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that tax breaks made the oil industry's effective tax rate 11 percent, compared with the average industrial rate of 18 percent, he said.
Virgin industries also had historical subsidies that helped them develop, said Bill Sheehan, an NRC board member and chairman of the steering committee of the Grassroots Recycling Network. Sheehan spoke only as an NRC board member. Sheehan said NRC needs to take a strong stand, but has moved too slowly because it tries to get consensus among its members, some of whom, such as materials suppliers from APC, are not ``friendly forces for recycling.''