America Turns to Recycling

November 17, 1989

Report Outline
Special Focus


In the early 1970s, as environmentalism entered the nation's consciousness, enthusiastic volunteers began collecting bottles, cans and newspapers in neighborhood recycling centers. By the late 1970s, however, many of these centers had closed because markets often could not be found for the materials. Today the future of recycling looks better. Faced with dwindling landfill space and the rising costs of waste disposal, many states and communities have rediscovered the benefits of recycling. While recycling can't solve all of the nation's solid-waste problems, there's no question that it can play a much bigger role than it does now.

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Recycling is back—and this time it may be here to stay. Recycling is no longer just a self-conscious exercise in environmental virtue. Now it's an urgent necessity. The rising costs of waste disposal and the undiminished opposition in many communities to siting new landfills or building new incinerators have seen to that. And so recycling's praises are being sung now, not just by environmentalists, but by virtually everybody.

At least 13 states have enacted some form of recycling legislation. Nearly four in five Americans say they have voluntarily recycled newspapers, glass, aluminum, motor oil or other items in recent years. Businesses, too, are jumping aboard the recycling bandwagon. Last July, for instance, a group representing the plastics industry proclaimed “The Urgent Need to Recycle” in a 12-page advertising insert in Time magazine. To be sure, businesses may be as much concerned about warding off any new government requirements that waste be reduced or recycled as they are about solving the nation's solid-waste problem. And some business efforts may be little more than public relations ploys. But, whatever their motives, many companies have indeed committed themselves to recycling.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Trash and Recycling
Mar. 27, 1998  The Economics of Recycling
Mar. 20, 1992  Garbage Crisis
Nov. 17, 1989  America Turns to Recycling
Sep. 11, 1987  Garbage Crisis
Aug. 23, 1974  Solid Waste Technology
Mar. 12, 1969  Waste Disposal: Coming Crisis
Recycling and Solid Waste