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ISRI: NY Times gets US recycling sector all wrong

United States – A recent New York Times column headed ”The Reign of Recycling” has ‘grossly misstated’ the US recycling industry, according to Robin Wiener, president of the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). In the article, author John Tierney labels the sector ‘wasteful’, ‘ineffectual’ and ‘costly’ – something which Wiener argues ‘could not be further from the truth’.

The opinion piece ‘completely ignores’ the economic impact of this activity on the US economy, ISRI insists in an official response. ‘The reality is that recycling in the United States is a vibrant activity and a key driver in domestic and global manufacturing, supplying more than 130 million tonnes annually of scrap metals, paper, electronics, plastics, rubber, glass and textiles for manufacture into new products.’

It goes on to state that recycling accounts for nearly US$ 106 billion in annual economic activity and is responsible for 471 587 direct and indirect jobs in the USA, generating more than US$ 4.3 billion in state and local revenues annually and a further US$ 6.76 billion in federal taxes.

‘Unique challenges’

Tierney ‘falls short’ in his analysis of the environmental impact of recycling, according to ISRI. ‘Most independent studies – including those by the US Environmental Protection Agency – have shown that recycling offers superior environmental benefits to landfilling and incineration,’ the organisation stresses.

At the same time, ISRI acknowledges that, in particular, those industry segments handling municipal recyclables are experiencing ‘unique challenges these days’ as a result of a changing business model and increasing quality concerns. 

‘Decreased commodity prices combined with the decision of some municipalities to collect recyclables in the same bin as waste materials affect both the economics and the technological feasibility of recycling,’ it explains. ‘But that represents well less than half of the total recycling activity occurring in the US each year.’

Proactive focus

But by essentially ‘lumping everything together’, Tierney sends out the wrong message and might discourage people from recycling altogether, ISRI concludes. The trade body goes on to call for a shift of the focus on to what does work and advocates developing processes and technologies needed to expand recycling potential.

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