As commodity prices plummet, opponents are indicting recycling as too impractical and costly. The debate came to a head late last year when The New York Times posed the ultimate question: Is recycling worth it?
Its answer: probably not. But most of us working in the waste, recycling, public policy, environmental and health fields would respond with a full-throated, “Yes, it is.”
Recycling — hand in hand with other advanced waste management practices — plays a vital role in shutting down the true enemy of the environment: landfills.
The primary argument against recycling is an economic one: the costs don’t justify the benefits. In down commodity markets, this line of reasoning goes, the cost of recovering materials (and energy) is higher than the cost to produce and use virgin materials.
Most of us in the waste and recycling community would agree that recycling should stand on its own. And it’s true that recycling may not always pencil out by itself. However, this math overlooks the enormous impact of externalities such as carbon and methane emissions, damage to public health and loss of resources. Even at today’s recycling rates, the avoided greenhouse gas emissions alone represent $8 billion to $12 billion a year in avoided future costs associated with climate change.
There are many reasons, however, to continue recycling in down markets when sluggish global growth drives down raw material prices.
First, the materials have intrinsic value, which will increase when the market recovers. Because the success or failure of recycling programs hinge on human awareness, behavior and habit, it’s counterproductive to start and stop recycling programs too frequently, leading to wasted resources.
Second, experience shows that when we stop innovating during difficult times, we fall behind, impeding progress when the good times return. Like commodities, waste generation cycles often mirror that of the global economy; the upside is that down cycles force us to find ways to increase productivity, brainstorm new business models, and drive down costs to stay competitive.
It’s time to think of recycling and zero-landfill programs as critical components of a broader strategy for end-of-life materials and important weapons in the fight against climate change, water contamination and various other environmental and social challenges.
This approach begins with the “reduce and reuse” mantra, where reducing demand for new products and materials reduces carbon emissions, pollution and waste associated with production, transportation and disposal. Recycling is the next leg of the journey, and serves to recover value from goods already made while avoiding the use of virgin materials.
For waste that can’t be effectively recycled, we move to an oft-maligned strategy that is widely successful around the world: responsibly burning waste to generate electricity.
Recovering energy from non-recycled waste offers myriad benefits — from the obvious reduction of unappealing landfills, to offsetting a ton of carbon for each ton of waste burned, to generating enough electricity to power a million homes in just the U.S. each year. Most people don’t realize waste-to-energy plants generate more energy than many major solar and wind projects.
Working together, and following countries like Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, all with exemplary recycling rates augmented with energy recovery, we could save over 260 million tons of CO2 annually — equivalent to closing over 60 coal-fired power plants. We could save the energy equivalent of 14 percent of our imported oil, all while generating 350,000 new permanent jobs and $130 billion in direct economic activity.
By contrast, landfills are among the most harmful environmental hazards we face today. Landfills are the third-largest source of methane, which is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and emit over 170 other air pollutants, including over 40 hazardous air pollutants, four known carcinogens, and 13 probable carcinogens. Recycling can help mitigate those emissions.
And while recycling opponents talk about how difficult it is to recycle, the industry has continued to find innovative ways to make it easier. By making recycling part of our everyday experience, our time and effort shapes a new mindset focused on strengthening the community.
In just the last few decades, a new recycling mindset has transformed human habits around waste disposal. Technology and a more comprehensive recycling strategy have sparked new green industries, bringing jobs, improved energy security, and protected communities, as well as generating impressive value for citizens.
NAIROBI: African countries have been urged to pursue policies aimed at fast-tracking integration of the continent into a global economy.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said it was time for Africa to pursue an economic integration agenda that would ensure the continent is at the centre of global economic growth.
“Countries should seek new partnerships and take advantage of emerging markets and opportunities and lower trade barriers to leverage
trade for sustainable development,” she said. Africa, she added, should expedite the process of building a Free Trade Area (FTA) currently at embryonic stage.
Mohamed said Heads of State are ready to initiate the negotiation process when they meet in South Africa in June for the forthcoming summit, a move she noted would demonstrate a high level political commitment by the African leaders that time is ripe for Africa to pursue its economic agenda and integrate fully into the global trading system as a focused entity.
“Such partnerships are in a category of their own by dint of their scope and their impact are most likely to create a symmetry in a global trade area,” she said at the opening session of the conference on mega trading blocks and the future of African trade at a Nairobi hotel yesterday.
She said it was crucial to interrogate potential impact of mega–regionals with a view to formulate requisite response on how such agreements are likely to affect all involved.
Mohamed said African economies need to urgently deepen domestic economic reforms, diversify markets and risk, build economies of scale, enhance competiveness, pursue export-led growth, and build global supply chains.
She said time for Africa to become a global standard maker was finally here to ensure the multilateral trade system was based on the criteria set in Africa.; “It is expected that an African wide Continental (CFTA) will become operational by 2017,” she added. “We need to strengthen the role and maintain the centrality of WTO in the trading system and not allow that role to be diluted,” she said. FREE TRADE She said Africans ought to build the dynamism, confidence and boldness that the noble idea and vision of free trade in Africa is now. “I know we can do it because our history has prepared us well,” she emphasised.
The CS said Africa now stands at monumental place with an opportunity that must not be missed, to make a significant impact and make her voice loud enough to be heard through the integration process.
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