Local Laws Determine How to Recycle

Recycling laws vary from state-to-state. Learn what the best local recycling models and programs are.

| January/February 1982


Local communities lead the way with recycling programs


For the past several years, the good folks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Washington, D.C. have been working to help urban residents gain greater control over their lives through the use of low-technology, decentralist tools and concepts. We strongly believe that more people (city dwellers and country folk alike) should be exposed to the institute's admirable efforts, which is why we've made this "what's happening where" report one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' regular features. 

Most recycling takes place at the local level, with material being salvaged in city dumps, on the curbsides of neighborhood streets and at drop-off recycling centers. Therefore, the majority of the laws and regulations that encourage or inhibit this type of conservation are enacted by individual communities — and many recycling activists are passing up Washington, D.C. in order to work with their local city councils, county commissions and state agencies. The efforts of such concerned citizens have produced a number of new laws that break down barriers to recycling.

Litter Taxes Help the Packaging Industry

"Litter tax" laws and state resource recovery bonding authorities are probably, at present, the most reliable sources of funds for recyclers. But, both of these approaches have their drawbacks.

Litter and recycling taxes are paid by manufacturers, distributors or retailers of products. The collected funds are then distributed, in the form of grants or loans, to litter education groups or recycling activities. Such taxes have brought in some $10 million, nationally, over the past few years.

However, the programs do represent a compromise: They allow the packaging industry to tax itself as an alternative to accepting container legislation ("bottle bills") and they encourage recyclers to forgo bottle-bill efforts in exchange for needed capital. According to Armen Stepanian of the Fremont Recycling Station in Seattle, litter taxes that are used to set up comprehensive curbside recycling operations will result in saving far more material than that represented by the 6 percent to 8 percent of the waste stream typically eliminated by a bottle bill.

Litter taxes have been opposed, however, by the National Association of Recycling Industries (NARI), a trade association of salvage dealers. NARI feels that the taxes subsidize competitors to established salvage operations, and its members are particularly disturbed because some litter-tax grantees have used capital to handle commercial and industrial waste streams rather than household waste streams, as was intended.

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