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EPA Wants to Teach America to Recycle Garbage

September 22, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Calling the garbage disposal problem ″on top of us,″ the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled ambitious draft plans Thursday to persuade Americans to recycle a quarter of their garbage in four years.

That would be 2 1/2 times the proportion recycled today. In a society that puts a premium on convenience and saving time and energy, Americans generate 3.5 pounds of garbage and trash each day for every man, woman and child.

Places to put it are rapidly disappearing, as shown by the saga of the garbage barge from Islip, N.Y. last year that couldn’t unload.

Recylcing and the companion strategy of generating less garbage in the first place - ″source reduction″ - enjoyed a vogue in the early 1970s but lost steam in most places.

For example, Reynolds Metals Co. claims to recycle more than 100 percent of its aluminum beverage cans because it accepts cans made by others. It’s much cheaper to buy an old can and melt it down for new aluminum than to refine aluminum ore.

J. Winston Porter, the agency’s assistant administrator for solid waste, said soaring costs of landfilling will bring recycling back.

″Not only does it feel good, there are stark economic realities out there″ to push recycling, Porter told a briefing for reporters on the draft strategy put together by a special EPA task force convened in February.

In the 1970s, ″When people got energetic about recycling, they quickly hit the hard economic realities. Landfilling was available for $2 a ton. Now it’s $50 or $100,″ Porter said.

Though Las Vegas, Nev., has plenty of land nearby and pays $6 a ton for landfilling, East Lyme, Conn., recently paid $100 a ton, the agency said.

From 18,000 in the 1970s and 9,000 in 1984, the number of landfills has shrunk to about 6,000 and the agency believes a third of those will close in the next five years.

Today’s landfills handle 80 percent of 160 million tons of garbage and trash a year. The rest is equally split between recycling and incineration.

The load is growing, mostly because of paper.Wastepaper has risen about 50 percent since 1960 to about 65 million tons a year - paper for take-out dinners, paper for diapers, paper for computer outputs, paper for hospital gowns.

″Twenty percent of that is recycled now. That could be roughly doubled,″ said Porter.

About 1 percent of plastics is recycled. ″We could get to 8 or 10 percent without much trouble.″

The agency hopes to see recycling and reduced generation at 25 percent and incineration at 20 percent in 1992, leaving 55 percent to be landfilled.

Ten states already require recycling in some form or other, and 600 communities do it.

These programs frequently require householders to separate metals, plastics, glass, paper, leftover food and yard waste before collection.

The agency has given a $250,000 grant to the Environmental Defense Fund for an advertising campaign in cooperation with the Advertising Council to promote recycling.

Asked about the usefulness of mandatory refundable deposits on purchases of soft drinks, as some states require, Porter said he would be reluctant to prescribe for every state, but ″I have seen some good successes. Generally, I’m personally in favor of that...″

″What’s going to be needed is an executive order by the president, probably the next president, directing federal agencies to purchase recycled goods,″ Porter said. ″That would jump-start a lot of things.″

An environmentalist was skeptical.

″It appears to me to be more of an exercise in public relations,″ said Henry Cole of the Clean Water Action Project.

″We think new incinerators should not be permitted until a community has met recycling goals,″ which should be set at about 50 percent of the waste stream, Cole said.

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