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"Recycling saves energy, preserves natural resources, reduces greenhouse-gas emissions, and keeps toxins from leaking out of landfills."—Marc Gunther, a writer and speaker on business and the environment.

Marc Gunther, "The End of Garbage," Fortune, March 14, 2007. http://money.cnn .com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/03/19/8402369/index.htm.

In 2007, for example, the EPA reported that the nation recycled and composted 85 million tons (77 million metric tons), or 33.4 percent of all municipal solid wastes—a vast increase from 1960, when only 6.4 percent was recycled. And this rise in recycling has occurred despite the fact that the total amount of waste has increased, from 3.7 to 4.6 pounds (1.7 to 2.1 kg) per person per day between 1960 and 2007. In fact, as the NRDC notes, "The amount of material we recycle today . . . equals the total quantity of garbage the United States produced in 1960."14 Recycling success stories in 2007 included the recycling of 54 percent of paper and paperboard wastes and 64 percent of yard trimmings. And about 35 percent of metals such as aluminum, steel, and mixed metals were recycled—an effort that eliminated greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 4.5 million cars from the road for one year.

Some American cities have far exceeded this national average, with cities in the West leading the way. Seattle, for example, implemented a mandatory recycling program in 2006 that requires households and apartments to keep all basic recyclables—paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, tin, aluminum, and yard clippings—out of ordinary garbage containers. Businesses must recycle paper, cardboard, and yard waste. Proponents of recycling view the program as a great success: In 2007 Seattle recycled 44 percent of its garbage, compared to the national average of 33.4 percent. The city hopes to increase its recycling percentage to 72 percent by 2025 and is preparing to make recycling of food scraps mandatory in 2009.

San Francisco, however, is the undisputed American leader in recycling. Even with a voluntary system, the city currently recycles 70 percent of its trash. The program's success is attributed to the fact that it accepts a wide range of items for recycling— including not only the usual items such as glass, paper, and aluminum cans, but also food scraps and a broad range of plastics. As city official Deanna Simon notes: "Pretty much anything plastic, except for plastic bags and Styrofoam, can now go into the recycling. . . . That includes a big wheel or a rubber ducky or a cup."15 The city also runs an efficient program to recycle construction and demolition debris and other industrial materials such as sludge. San Francisco's mayor Gavin Newsom now wants to adopt a mandatory program for both recycling and composting. He aims to reach a goal of 75 percent recycling by 2010 and zero waste by 2020.

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