Lee Hornberger, associate dean of engineering at Santa Clara University in California, says she is “definitely worried about the post-consumer [plastics] recycling industry,” after visiting 31 companies in the United States and Europe. (“How recyclers can survive the wearing-off of the green,” May 27, Page 9.)
The professor concludes that plastic recyclers, most of them very small companies, can survive long-term with committed leadership; the support of local governments, universities, trade associations and other plastics companies; a focused, defined market; and technical competence.
To accomplish the goal, she believes the United States may need stricter laws to mandate recycling, because “somewhere, sometime our landfills are going to fill up.”
Missing from her data is any mention of the hundreds of plastic recycling ventures that failed miserably and fully during what someone wistfully described as the golden age of plastic recycling, from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.
In fact, it was not a golden age, but rather a dark age of wasted investments in people, equipment and facilities, and unrecovered operating costs. It was driven by hysterical pressures from legislators and enviromaniacs in search of the nirvana of “sustainability” via the exclusive Holy Grail of “recycle or die.”
The good folks in California soon may scrap a law that mandates recycled content in consumer trash bags (“Calif. might revise PE bag content law,” May 13, Page 1).
Finally, Californians have come to realize that their Plastic Bag Recycling Nazis are a wasteful bureaucracy, increasing the cost of consumer products without a performance or environmental benefit.
The voters of St. Petersburg, Fla., are now being asked to decide whether they are willing to pay $2-$5 per month to continue the city's curbside collection program, after learning that for about the last 10 years the paper and plastic actually ended up in the county incinerator. They've just begun to realize that waste-to-energy is every bit as good — if not better — a recycling measure.
And just two weeks following the Garbage Corruption Don's funeral, New York awoke and stopped collecting plastic and glass bottles for recycling July 1, claiming the move will save $40 million a year.
Hey, Professor Hornberger! Why should we have “stricter laws to mandate recycling”? Just to keep your clients in operation, even though consumers, legislators and regulators have finally come to understand that nonmarket-driven recycling of garbage is really a load of crap?
Professor Hornberger's consulting lessons appear to be as much out of date and out of touch as she was out of the country. From California to Florida to New York, people are finally waking up.
Let's hope everyone in between learns the reality lesson, as well: Recycling makes environmental sense only when it makes economic sense, too.
George A. Makrauer
Treasure Island, Fla.