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the pico letter v7.02 -The Tug of War ? Recycling in a Downturn

?We are recycling not only to protect the environment, but for economic reasons as well. Disposal is simply too costly and too dangerous. The challenge is to redirect the flow of raw materials going to landfill into strengthening our declining local economies. The solution to pollution is self-reliant cities and counties.?

-Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 1990

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ?recycle??? Is it the environment or is it how recycling impacts the economy?? While the environment is a direct beneficiary of recycling, businesses all around the world profit from developing recycled products and using recycled materials ranging from paper to energy.? Without the economic benefits of recycling, the practice would stay limited to the crunchy hippies living in Northern Arizona.? As the economy continues to weaken, recycling has been thrown on the back burner and is not reaping the same returns it did when the markets were booming.

Clearly the recycling industry experiences both push and pull movements.? Environmental groups have been trying to grow the popularity and acceptance of recycling for decades.? Now that Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio have declared global warming a massive threat, the public is taking note and realizing that recycling is not only good for the environment but is ?cool.?? People see the benefits that recycling has on their lives socially and economically.? However, the future of recycling depends on the strength of the economy and without those benefits recycling becomes a secondary thought.

In the past, recycling was mainly associated with milk cartons and cardboard packaging, but has recently extended into the electronics realm.? Best Buy offers nationwide free recycling programs for a multitude of electronics.? Although such endeavors have inclined Best Buy to help the environment, the retailer?s main motivation is its bottom line, as it knows that recycling is important to consumers for various reasons.? Best Buy has a ?Field of Dreams? mentality ? if you build it they will come, and knows that electronics recycling will increase traffic to its stores.

Both the social and economic attributes of recycling have helped the cause grow.? However, the industry is now struggling as companies attempt to stay afloat and sustainable products sink to the bottom of the priority list.? Many cities thrive on selling their used goods, including Minnesota?s $3 billion recycling industry.? The state depends on recycled goods and over the past few months demand has drastically dropped as a result of the strained economy.

While we may often forget, recycling is a global industry.? China is among the world?s largest importers of recycled waste and collects a huge portion of recycled material from the US and England and then returns finished goods.? As demand for material items has dropped, China?s importing has also declined, leaving countries like the US and England with thousands of tons of recycled waste.? The mounds of recycled waste wait in product purgatory until they are made into new products or get dumped into a landfill.

?My hobby of not attending meetings about recycling saves more energy than your hobby of recycling.?

-John McCarthy

One growing argument is that recycling takes more energy than it is worth.? Although it is a proven fact that recycling is beneficial to the environment, there are many residual effects of the recycling industry.? A critical eye has been cast on those industries that have a negative impact on the environment.? However, does recycling use more energy to produce goods than the power consumed to make brand new items?? Is our yearning for a paper-free office actually generating more fossil fuels in the process?? How can recycling help us economically when it uses more resources than the alternative?

“Solid wastes” are the discarded leftovers of our advanced consumer society. This growing mountain of garbage and trash represents not only an attitude of indifference toward valuable natural resources, but also a serious economic and public health problem.?

- Jimmy Carter

While it takes energy to make energy and produce recycled goods, we will eventually be able to employ reusable energy to make these products.? Until then, we will have to accept the fact that it may take more energy than we are saving.? Recycling creates jobs while incinerating garbage is basically a one-man act.? The paper industry remains among the largest consumers of natural resources.? Despite the internet and the advent of digital documents, paper is not going away.? The industry accommodates consumers by offering recycled products but continues to fight the notion that it does not harm the environment to the extent that it does.

Industries need to think long term, even though the short term is staring them in the face.? It is simple economics, the short term may appear more attractive, but in fact it is those that plan for the long term that ultimately achieves success.? While paper will not go away in the near future, the industry is struggling from much lower demand.? Improving production methods, using alternative energy, and modernizing equipment will help the paper industry gain an upper hand.? While product development takes time and money, it will surely be beneficial in the long run.

We know that recycling is driven by market conditions.? But we also know that recycling can help us secure a more efficient future.? We need to think long term.? We need to work to maintain recycling efforts in offices and at home and continue purchasing recycled products.

“You can tell how high a society is by how much of its garbage is recycled.”

-Dhyani Ywahoo

Is it possible that upholding these environmental initiatives could actually help us get out of the current economic crisis?? At the moment, it seems like a vicious cycle and no one is sure where it will go.? We must not abandon the positive impacts recycling has had on our society as times get tough.? The markets will turn, and it would be beneficial to us all to have recycling and other efforts in place when Wall Street rebounds.

?The case for recycling is strong. The bottom line is clear. Recycling requires a trivial amount of our time. Recycling saves money and reduces pollution. Recycling creates more jobs than dumping in landfills or incineration. And a largely ignored but very important consideration, recycling reduces our need to dump our garbage in someone else’s backyard.?

-David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance

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