The Clinton Administration announced new measures Wednesday to boost the federal government’s use of recycled materials, declaring that the initiatives will help ease burdens on the nation’s landfills and create new jobs in collecting and processing reusable goods.
President Clinton signed an executive order setting higher standards for the recycled content of some 300,000 tons of paper that the federal government purchases annually, requiring federal agencies by 1994 to buy stock made of at least 20% of recycled paper. By the end of 1998, writing and printing paper purchased by the federal government would have to contain 30% recycled material.
“It’s time for the government to set an example and provide real leadership that will help create jobs and protect the environment, encouraging new markets for recycled products and new technologies,” Clinton said.
The move was hailed by recycling proponents and by state and municipal officials, who have looked to the federal government to help create new markets for the mountains of recyclable waste now accumulating in landfills. Indeed, Vice President Al Gore announced the initiative during a campaign appearance for embattled New York Mayor David N. Dinkins, now in the final weeks of a tough reelection campaign.
Gore said that the order will create a strong market for paper now being collected by 5,500 community recycling programs across the nation. One of three Americans now bundle their newspapers at home or separate their office paper at work for collection by such programs. But a weak market for recycled paper products has left many such programs struggling to survive.
The executive order unveiled Wednesday marks one of the first clear victories that the Administration has handed environmentalists since it took office. Administration officials said that the plan’s job-creating potential helped the President resist heavy lobbying from the American pulp and paper industry to adopt looser federal standards.
“What may be different about this is that paper recycling is vested with enormous importance, because average Americans have come to understand that one of the first things they can do to align their life with the environmental ethic is to recycle paper,” said Fred Krupp, executive director of the Environmental Defense Fund.
“I’m hoping that the public’s enthusiasm--whether from inner-city residents who will benefit from jobs or from suburbanites who care deeply about recycling--will help the President again understand that what’s good for the environment makes good politics.”
Clinton did not, however, resist a last-minute appeal from Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Me.), the Senate majority leader, who sought to broaden the definition of recycled materials to include sawdust. Under the President’s order, federal agencies will be permitted to buy writing and printing paper made with 50% sawdust, which is produced in at least two sawmills based in Mitchell’s home state.
Also included in the executive order are measures that would allow the federal government, for the first time, to buy paper produced without the use of chlorine--a bleaching chemical that, with water, produces dioxin, which is associated with cancer, birth defects and nervous system disorders. Clinton has ordered agencies to relax their requirement for brightness in paper, a change that would make unbleached paper acceptable for use by the federal government.
Some environmentalists said they were disappointed that Clinton did not accept an earlier draft of the executive order, which would have required agencies to give preference to chlorine-free paper in their purchasing decisions. But many hailed Clinton’s move as an important first step. Peter Freyne, a spokesman for Lyons Falls Pulp and Paper Co. in New York, one of the only producers of chlorine-free paper products in North America, called Clinton’s executive order “a crack in the door.” But, he added, “that’s all it takes” to prompt rethinking nationwide on the need for bleached paper.
The executive order also requires the federal government to fit its vehicles with retread tires and to use motor oil that has been recycled and re-refined. Currently 1.4 billion gallons of used oil are generated each year in the United States.
But while Germany re-refines 85% of its used motor oil and Japan requires customers to turn in their used oil before buying a new can, only a small fraction of used motor oil is reused in the United States. Donald W. Brinckman, chief executive of Safety-Kleen Corp., one of only two U.S. companies that re-refine motor oil, called the order “a significant step in placing the U.S. government at the forefront of U.S. efforts to recycle used oil.”
The state of California for several years has had standards for recycled paper that falls slightly below the standard that Clinton adopted on Wednesday. By law, state agencies must buy paper that contains at least 10% recycled material by total weight of the product.
The Californians Against Waste Foundation praised Clinton’s decision Wednesday, saying that it will have the effect of raising standards that states and private companies nationwide will likely adopt.
“We know this affects the marketplace--and the reason we have confidence that this will make a difference is that we have seen this trickle-down effect,” said Lance King, a spokesman for the Californians Against Waste Foundation.