Recycling Glut: Too Much Supply

AS more Americans prepare old newspapers, cans, jugs, and jars for recycling, what happens to these items once they reach the collection center? Often, they just pile up.

That's because the demand for recycled materials doesn't match supply. Manufacturers are finding recycled goods more costly to use than virgin material, says Lisa Collaton, policy analyst with the Environmental Action Coalition in Tokoma Park, Md. For many companies, the cost of collecting, transporting, and processing recycled materials is too high.

Philadelphia, for example, stopped collecting plastics in its curbside collection program, Ms. Collaton says. Plastic bottles and jugs "take up so much volume on your recycling truck that you end up sending more and more trucks on your collection route, which is costing you more and more money," she says. Another problem is that some plastic containers can't be reused because of contamination.

Environmentalists complain that there are no regulations requiring United States manufacturers to use recycled materials in their products.

"Municipalities have invested billions of dollars ... to collect material for recycling, but the manufacturing sector in the country does not benefit from any federal legislation that would require them or encourage them to make investment in recycling capacity," says Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Although the federal government has done little in this area, states have been active. Some have passed laws requiring newspaper printers to use a percentage of recycled newsprint. A ballot initiative in Massachusetts would establish the most comprehensive state packaging/recycling measure in the country. The proposal, which may be on the November ballot, encourages companies to use recycled content in packaging materials.

While the public is getting the message to recycle at home, it is the business community that must get involved as well, say environmentalists.

"The manufacturers who have to step forward and agree to want to buy those materials," Collaton says.

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