WASHINGTON -- A European-style, industry-based approach to recycling of municipal trash is costlier and less efficient than the current U.S. approach that lets municipalities play a large role, according to a former senior Environmental Protection Agency official.
"Micromanagement is the enemy of recycling. However, American politicians are increasingly tempted to force recycling through European-style central planning," said J. Winston Porter, a consultant who served as EPA assistant administrator for solid waste from 1985 to 1989.
Porter warned federal, state, and municipal officials against dictating recycling rates and deadlines without regard for local economic and environmental considerations.
Based on his study of German, French, British, and European Union recycling approaches, Porter said American officials should let market considerations dictate recycling rates. The officials also should continue to set recycling goals for all trash, not just packaging or individual materials such as paper and wood, he said.
European countries target packaging materials in their recycling and recovery programs.
"Leave the basic trash collection, sorting, and disposal operations with municipalities," said Porter, president of the Waste Policy Center in Sterling Va. The Germans have shown that it is too expensive to simultaneously operate public and private collection systems, he said at a news briefing.
The Germans, who require 70% recycling by 1995, have overall recycling costs of $550 per ton, versus $150 to $200 a ton in the United States, Porter said.
California, New York, and Texas "are also trapped by statutes with unreachable rates and dates," Porter said in a report, "U.S. v. European Recycling: Free Markets Beat Central Planning."
But Porter opposed giving municipalities authority over flow control, which is "a real tough issue."
Flow control refers to the ability of states and localities to designate facilities for disposal of garbage. Municipalities have been fighting for flow control in the courts so that they can ensure a waste stream that would guarantee revenues for paying off the tax-exempt revenue bonds typically used to finance disposal facilities.
Market forces should determine where disposal occurs, Porter said.
The United States now is recycling about 23% of its garbage, with paper making up the biggest portion, Porter said.