RECYCLING can prove hazardous to the environment and to...


May 21, 1994

RECYCLING can prove hazardous to the environment and to your pocketbook, according to a new study of New Jersey's 1987 mandatory recycling law by the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank. It's an experience Maryland should study closely as it proceeds with ever higher recycling standards.

The study found only 4 percent of targeted municipal trash is recycled. Net public cost: $35 million annually -- even after giving full value for the landfill space saved and payments for recyclable materials.

Researchers found communities were paying processors $45 a ton to accept waste paper, so weak was the demand. Because of the lack of commercial interest, municipalities had to pay $70 per ton or more to bury trash in distant landfills.

Instead of reducing waste, the mandatory program in New Jersey is wasting resources and money, researchers conclude. The government separation and collection program has also distorted the free market pricing of recyclables.

"Why recycle if the costs of doing so exceed the benefits?" the authors ask. Government agencies and waste management industries have profited most from the program while households and businesses have paid a hefty price for no appreciable environmental benefit.

There is much more to be said about the complicated issue: How high one values usable landfill space and the resource replacement of recyclables are two questions of judgment that can radically affect the outcome of any economic analysis.

Maryland's law is not the same as New Jersey's. Still, the Cato Institute study suggests that the widely praised benefits of government-mandated recycling programs may require a hard second look.

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HERE IS an excerpt from a Garry Wills review of Murray Kempton's new book, entitled "Rebellions, Perversities and Main Events," that has special relevance to folks on this editorial page.

The Wills critique appeared in a recent edition of the New York Review of Books:

"My late friend Charles Ives, a conservative columnist for the Baltimore Sun, was so modest that he signed his writings 'C. P. Ives,' lest anyone think he presumed relationship with the

composer, whom he revered. His modesty made him reluctant to boast that he had received a letter of profuse thanks from Murray Kempton, whose journalism he also revered. Ives had met, at some Baltimore function, Kempton's mother, a stalwart of the 'shabby genteel' class Kempton described, in various places, with rueful semi-affection. When Ives said it was an honor to meet Kempton's mother, she responded with surprise. How could a good fellow-conservative like Ives admire her radical and raffish son's work? Kempton was soon writing to Ives a heartfelt letter expressing gratitude for indicating to his mother that he was not entirely a traitor to his class."

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