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Editorial - Questions on recycling

April 17, 1997

Who could oppose recycling? Nobody we know of, but unless the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection answers a top state lawmaker's question, a fee that provides $40 million a year to help local recycling programs may fade into the sunset. We recommend the department act quickly, before lawmakers think too much about tinkering with such programs.

The doubts about continuing a landfill fee were raised by Rep. John Barley, D-Lancaster, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Barley's concerns include the fact that the $40 million fund is too large to go without legislative scrutiny. Lancaster said his committee also questions how such grants are made, and whether providing municipalities with money gives them an unfair advantage over private sector recyclers.

This last concern is the easiest to deal with. If recycling were a wildly profitable business, entrepreneurs would be setting up redemption centers all over the place. The fact is that while aluminum remains a desired commodity and newsprint prices have rebounded, there just isn't a whole lot of cash to be made (at the municipal level) in recycling plastics, glass or slick paper.

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The municipalities have two good reasons for finding outlets for this material. The first is that every ton of material they can recycle won't find its way into the limited amount of space available at most landfills. And the less tonnage they must pay to transport, the lower their disposal costs should be.

We agree with Barley's desire for legislative scrutiny, and with the concern of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which argues that municipal recycling programs don't address the problem of bottles and cans being tossed along the roads and into farm fields.

The bureau wants a deposit put on beverage containers, but state officials fear that might harm municpal recycling programs by reducing goods brought there.

We suggest a compromise: Try using the $40 million to make token payments to those who recycle cans and bottles.

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