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Municipal Solid Waste Recycling Issues
journal contributionposted on 1979-09-01, 00:00 authored by Lester B. Lave, Chris Hendrickson, Noelette Conway-Schempf, Francis McMichael
Municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling targets have been set nationally and in many states. Unfortunately, the definitions of recycling, rates of recycling, and the appropriate components of MSW vary. MSW recycling has been found to be costly for most municipalities compared to landfill disposal. MSW recycling policy should be determined by the cost to the community and to society more generally. In particular, recycling is a good policy only if environmental impacts and the resources used to collect, sort, and recycle a material are less than the environmental impacts and resources needed to provide equivalent virgin material plus the resources needed to dispose of the post-consumer material safely. From a review of the existing economic experience with recycling and an analysis of the environmental benefits (including estimation of external social costs), we find that, for most communities, curbside recycling is only justifiable for some post-consumer waste, such as aluminum and other metals. We argue that alternatives to curbside recycling collection should be explored, including product takeback for products with a toxic content (such as batteries) or product redesign to permit more effective product remanufacture. Read