Andrew Dobbs, Central Texas Program Director
This morning the Austin American-Statesman published a big front page article claiming scary stuff about Zero Waste in Austin—namely that it is expensive, and that we “don’t know the final resting place of some of the items that Austinites put in their blue bins.” We need your help pushing back against the notion that recycling is not beneficial for the environment and our economy. Check out the facts below, sign the petition to Mayor Steve Adler and your Councilmember, and take a moment to write a quick letter to the editor of the Statesman to set the record straight!
Here are the facts the article didn’t mention:
Fact: Recycling means recovering valuable materials in our waste and marketing them as commodities. Like all commodities, recyclables go up and down in price over time. When the prices are high, Austin and other communities that recycle make money. When prices are low, recycling can cost money. Right now all commodity prices are low as a result of historically low oil prices. At some point in the future, however, commodity prices will go back up, and if Austin doesn’t have the infrastructure to capture recyclables at that time the money we lose then could dwarf the money we are losing now.
FACT: Austin is still saving money with recycling. In good times the sales of recyclables makes more money than it costs to pick up, sort, and sell those recyclables, but even in bad years recycling is still a better bet than trash. Landfills are all cost/no benefit for ratepayers, so every bit that you recycle saves you money you would have wasted by throwing those same materials in the trash. Austin Resource Recovery customers pay 46% more for trash than recycling, and if we recycle more we could save more.
FACT: There are costs and benefits that these reporters don’t take into account, namely, the long-term costs of landfilling. Permitting and building a new landfill costs tens of millions of dollars and saddles some community with odor, vermin, litter, traffic, and other nuisances. Every ton that we recycle delays the day that we need to spend millions to build a new dump somewhere in Central Texas. Note that the Statesman article failed to account for this enormous cost of waste and benefit of recycling, or any of the other externalities associated with dumping.
FACT: The scare line that “we don’t know what happens to our recycling” is unfair. Why would anybody pay good money for our recyclables just to trash them? If they wanted to trash them they could get US to pay THEM, not the other way around. Our glass, plastic, aluminum, steel, and paper goes to manufacturers around the world to be made into a variety of new products, and the fact that there are so many markets for our materials isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s something to celebrate.
FACT: Austin has a unique solution for these concerns. The solution: the upcoming Austin Remanufacturing Hub. This project will bring in over a dozen recycling processers and other Zero Waste-oriented businesses to Southeast Austin. Rather than shipping our commodities around the world—cutting into the profit from our commodity sales—we will be able to handle them right here in Austin. This project will create more than 1,000 new manufacturing jobs in one of the most economically challenged areas of the city. There is an upfront investment in this facility for sure, but how many cities get to create hundreds of manufacturing jobs and create value for their recycling all at the same time?
This article repeats the misinformation spread by recycling denialist John Tierney recently in an article which has been debunked by us and by other experts in the field. Make sure to read these responses as well.
Please take a moment to do two things to set the record straight on this issue.
- Sign our petition to Mayor Steve Adler and your councilmember that reminds them that you and other Austinites support recycling and our continued investment in Zero Waste.
- Write a letter to the editor of the Austin American-Statesman. Letters are only 150 words or less, so take one of our points above and make it in your own words. Even better—make your own point to them. Use the app here or email your response to firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know that their readers want fair coverage of this issue!
Recycling saves money, creates jobs, protects the environment, and reduces our dependence on waste facilities. Zero Waste is a common sense policy that can be achieved easily if only we have the political will to do it. Articles like this undermine that political will, and that’s why we have to take strong action to answer them. Please take a moment to sign the petition and send a letter to the Statesman today!