April 8, 1999, 10:00 AM EDT

Contacts: GRRN - Lance King (703) 241-4927
TCS - Keith Ashdown, 202-546-8500 x 110
FOE - Lynn Erskine, 202-783-7400 x 255

Local Recycling Hurt by Federal Subsidies

New Coalition Calls On Congress To End 'Welfare for Waste'

WASHINGTON, DC (April 8, 1999) -- A new national coalition asked Congress today to end federal tax and spending subsidies which waste billions of dollars and hurt recycling.

Federal subsidies for timber, mining, energy and waste disposal are part of a complex system of economic preferences discouraging recycling, according to a ground-breaking report produced by the GrassRoots Recycling Network, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Materials Efficiency Project and Friends of the Earth.

Welfare for Waste: How Federal Taxpayer Subsidies Waste Resources and Discourage Recycling identifies 15 tax and spending subsidies pouring $13 billion over 5 years into industries that compete directly with recycling. The report was released in a 10:00 a.m. news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC is endorsed by 116 organizations and businesses. It is also being released today in 32 other cities across the nation.

"Congress set up the system of tax and spending subsidies decades ago, when our natural resources seemed limitless. Today, Americans work hard to recycle so that resources are saved through sustainable business practices. It is time for Congress to end these subsidies which amount to welfare for waste," Rick Best, national chair of the GrassRoots Recycling Network said in a Sacramento, California news conference.

The GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN), which led the year-long research effort, is a national non-profit organization advocating policies and practices to achieve zero waste, and is headquartered in Athens, Georgia. Rick Best, who leads GRRN's Board of Directors, is policy director for the Sacramento-based Californians Against Waste.

Taxpayers for Common Sense Executive Director Ralph DeGennaro said in the Washington news conference: "Taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for federal programs rewarding waste and destruction of the environment. It is time for Congress to recognize that Americans love recycling and hate the waste of hard-earned taxpayer dollars." Taxpayers for Common Sense is an independent watchdog organization working to eliminate wasteful federal spending.

Major findings in the report are that:

  • Recycling competes directly with virgin materials, such as timber, oil and mineral resources, and waste disposal industries on an uneven playing field.
  • Favoritism to virgin materials originated in the late 1800's with federal and state subsidies intended to develop the American West. But these policies are dangerously outmoded and have the effect today of wasting taxpayer money, encouraging environmental destruction, pollution, lost job opportunities, and trashing of resources.
  • 15 federal taxpayer subsidies for well-financed and politically influential corporations cost an average $2.6 billion a year or $13 billion over 5 years. These are conservative estimates and do not include billions of dollars more in state and local subsidies.
  • Current demand for energy and natural resources, many of which are non-renewable, cannot continue without fostering ever greater environmental and economic degradation.
  • Resource-efficient recycling and reuse businesses, which tend to be smaller, community-based and run by entrepreneurs, struggle against subsidized competitors.
  • Eliminating these subsidies is an essential step toward creating a more level playing field on which recycling can compete. It conserves resources and saves taxpayer dollars at the same time.

"Materials efficiency is a new policy for the new millennium, which will support sustainable jobs and businesses in the United States and protect the environment," John Young, the principal researcher for the report and director of the Materials Efficiency Project, said.

"The unique contribution of this report is connecting the issues of recycling, environmental protection and taxpayer reform. Welfare for Waste breaks new ground by focusing on the impact of federal taxpayer subsidies on recycling," Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder said.

National organizations endorsing the report include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Island Institute, Greenpeace USA, Rainforest Action Network, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Coop America, Mineral Policy Center, Institute for Local Self Reliance, American Lands, Rainforest Relief, Container Recycling Institute, Redefining Progress and Resource Conservation Alliance.

The report is available for free on this site or in printed form for $10.00 (including shipping and handling) from the GrassRoots Recycling Network, P.O. Box 49283, Athens, GA 30604-9283.


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