Recycling as a Way of Life

By Parks, David C. | Journal of Property Management, March-April 1991 | Go to article overview

Recycling as a Way of Life


Parks, David C., Journal of Property Management


Recycling has become a way of life for many Americans. No longer does one think of collecting aluminum minum cans along the highway when recycling is mentioned. Rather one envisions neat, stacked containers of recyclable wastes, set out in front of each home alongside the normal household trash on collection day.

Today, recycling is a way of life for many. In November 1990, the Wall Street Journal reported that 30 states had some form of statewide recycling law. More dramatically, 65 state or local recycling laws were passed in the first half of 1990 alone.

In order to encourage recycling, several pieces of legislation are pending at the federal and state levels which give incentives to recycle. The White House has proposed a tax on all products (glass, paper, plastic, and metal) that are produced from virgin materials. In the House, legislation has been introduced to require all paper products produced in the U.S. to contain a minimum percentage of recycled paper or to charge a non-compliance tax on that which does not. Some states are even considering a tax or surcharge for every disposable diaper purchased.

What many do not realize is that recycling is rapidly becoming essential to the American way of life. State and federal lawmakers see the importance of the issue and are acting in the interests of our communities, our country, and our businesses. Property managers must do the same and act now to take advantage of available resources and to use various marketing techniques to their advantage.

Why recycle?

The United States today generates approximately 160 million tons of municipal waste each year. The three most common methods of disposing of this waste are landfills, waste-to-energy or other waste incinerators, and recycling. All three methods are expensive, costing an average of $70 to $120 per ton to incinerate, $40 to $60 per ton to dispose of in a landfill, and $20 to $30 per ton to recycle.

There are approximately 6,000 active landfills operating in the United States. Federal, state, and local regulations, as well as environmental activists and citizen protests, have severely restricted the addition of new landfills. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 50 percent of current landfills will be closed by 1995 and 61 percent by 2000. The agency estimates a net decrease in disposal capacity of 36 million tons per year by 1992.

In addition to dwindling capacity and facilities, the costs of disposing of wastes in landfills has been steadily rising. From 1986 to 1988, the national average cost per ton for landfill disposal has increased by over 100 percent. In the Northeast, costs have risen by over 120 percent for the same time period. This results in large price increases by waste removal companies and directly impacts operating costs for commercial and residential real estate projects.

Waste incinerators, while more expensive, are an alternative that is becoming more popular, especially with the increase in Pollution-control technologies and the ability to use the facilities to generate electricity. Pollution control is not absolute, though, and incinerator ash by-products are a major concern. Ash generated from burning waste has only 10 percent of the volume of the original waste, but it contains higher concentrations of heavy metals and Dioxin (a cancer-causing agent).

The least expensive altemative, as well as the most environmentally friendly, is recycling. By recycling as much as possible, not only is there less waste to dispose of, but there are fewer demands on the world's nonrenewable resources, less consumption of energy in obtaining these resources, and less stress on the environment.

Recycling one ton of aluminum prevents the need for and use of approximately four tons of bauxite, one ton of petroleum coke, and one ton of pitch. Recycling a ton of paper saves about 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water.

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