WASHINGTON — Recycling advocates need to promote recycling's economic and environmental benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gases, as a way to broaden its political appeal and hitch it to higher-profile issues, said several speakers at a Clinton administration forum April 19.
The Washington event kicked off two days of closed-door meetings by government, environmental and business groups looking to stabilize recycling markets and come up with policy recommendations to be presented at a high-profile White House event planned for the fall.
No clear consensus emerged at the public meeting, but an Environmental Protection Agency official said recycling advocates need to better promote how they tackle global warming, the administration's key environmental priority.
Increasing the nation's recycling rate from 27 percent to 35 percent would cut carbon emissions by 26 billion pounds, the same as removing eight million cars from the country's roads, said David Gardiner, assistant administrator in the EPA's office of policy, planning and evaluation.
Sustaining recycling requires convincing the public that it is more than a way to keep materials out of a landfill, said Will Feretti, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition, based in Alexandria, Va.
Every ton recycled saves 17 percent of the energy required to make the same products from virgin materials, improving U.S. economic competitiveness and providing jobs, Feretti said. ``We need to continue to make that link between recycling and global environmental quality,'' he said.
What the federal government should focus on was less clear. Municipal waste officials said their collection infrastructure needs improvement—one manager advocated taxing garbage disposal to fund local government's recycling.
``Too many cities have obsolete collection equipment and [materials recovery facilities] held together with bubble gum and bobby pins,'' said Michael Schedler, technical director of the National Association for PET Container Resources in Charlotte, N.C. ``There is no material coming back. The market is sending mixed signals.''
But other speakers said the government does not support markets for recycled-content goods by buying enough recycled products. David Dougherty, director of the Clean Washington Center, a private market development agency in Seattle, said the U.S. government spends much less than other countries on research to find uses for recycled bottles and paper.
States and local governments traditionally have made waste policy, but Dennis Sabourin, vice president of PET recycler Wellman Inc. of Shrewsbury, N.J., said ``there is a lack of national leadership. I'm not calling for legislation, but I'm calling for getting our issues on the front burner.''
Sabourin, who is also chairman of the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, said governments need to stop looking for recycling collection to pay for itself and treat it as a tax-supported service, like garbage disposal or the fire department.
Fran McPoland, the federal environmental executive and one of the organizers of the event, said industries need to take more responsibility for boosting recycling. Without specifying what industries she meant, she praised the steel and paper industries for ``stepping up and doing their part.''