It Pays to Recycle

by Robert Bryce

Recycling has suddenly become profitable for the City of Austin. In the last fiscal year, the city got $129,725 for all of the scrap aluminum, newspaper, glass, and steel collected from city residents. By the end of the city's current fiscal year in September, it will have collected an estimated $1.5 million for the sale of those same materials.

The unexpected windfall is the result of surging prices for used paper. The phrase "if you can rip it, ship it" has become the motto of the used paper industry. In July of last year, the city got $21 for each ton of recycled newsprint it collected. Last month, that same ton of newsprint sold for $150.

"We anticipated collecting about $200,000 for our recycled materials for the 1994-95 fiscal year," says Ron Fuszek, who oversees the sale of the city's recycled products. "Already this year, we have collected $1.118 million."

Used paper prices across the country have surged as newly built paper mills and de-inking plants compete with each other for newsprint. Earlier this year, used paper prices topped out at more than $200 per ton before settling back to their current levels. Austin used to send its paper to a mill in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. But with the recent opening of the Champion Paper plant near Houston, Austin has found a closer and much more lucrative outlet for its paper, since Champion must compete with several other new plants around the country eager to get the same paper.

"There's been a fundamental shift in the marketplace due to the fact that finally all these mills that have been putting in new processing equipment to handle recycled paper are finished and enough have come on-line so that demand far exceeds supply," says Steven Apotheker, a technical editor at Resource Recycling magazine in Portland, Oregon.

Apotheker says the combination of new mills, reductions of timber harvest in old growth forests, surging export markets, and a robust domestic economy have stimulated demand for all types of used paper. "For years, you couldn't give telephone directories away. As for junk mail and mixed paper? Forget about it," said Apotheker. "Now you are getting $100 to $150 per ton for that same kind of paper."

According to Joe Word, of the city's Solid Waste Services, the increased revenue from the recycling program will allow the agency to hold the line on garbage collection fees. At present, the city's 127,000 residential customers pay $11.64 per month for garbage and recycling collection. Due to increased costs of operating the city landfill, Word says, the city had been planning on raising collection fees by about 85 cents a month. But with the new revenues, that increase can be avoided, saving each Austin household with city garbage collection about $11 next year.

With the sharp increases in paper prices, Fuszek says the city has begun considering a program that would allow homeowners to include mixed office paper and cardboard with their newsprint. But because mixed paper brings a lower price than newsprint, Fuszek said, city officials are uncertain about if or when they will change the program. For now, the city will maintain its current course and try to upgrade its existing pilot program within city offices to recycle white office paper.


MORE TRASH TALK. Over the past months, several city trash collectors have been injured by caustic materials that have been left in trash cans. The city encourages anyone with caustic or hazardous materials - like paint, solvents, or pesticides - to take them to the city's hazardous waste collection center at 4411 Meinardus Drive. The site is open Wednesdays from noon-7pm. Questions? Call 499-2111.


HURWITZ GETS SUED BY FDIC. Earlier this month, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) filed a $250 million lawsuit against Charles Hurwitz, the Houston-based CEO of Maxxam Corp., for his role in the failure of United Savings Association of Texas, which costs federal taxpayers some $1.5 billion.

In 1985, with the help of junk bond whiz Michael Milken, Hurwitz took over Pacific Lumber Co., which owned the largest privately owned stand of virgin redwood forest on the planet. Hurwitz then directed the company to begin clear-cutting the redwoods to pay off the junk bonds provided by Milken and his firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert. Milken ended up in prison for his financial misdeeds. Now, environmentalists are hoping to put Hurwitz there, as well.

"Surely, the claims in FDIC v. Hurwitz warrant that felony charges be filed," said redwood activist Darryl Cherney. In a press release distributed on the Internet by the Taxpayer Asset Project, Cherney said, "Charles Hurwitz has swindled a savings and loan, pilfered a pension fund, and ripped off the redwoods. We say three strikes and you're out for corporate criminals. America's redwood heritage will not be safe until Charles Hurwitz is behind bars."

If you want to learn more about Hurwitz and Pacific Lumber, attend a slide show put on by photographer Doug Thron, who has taken hundreds of photos of the Headwaters Forest, a vast tract of redwoods owned by Pacific Lumber that the federal government has offered to buy from Hurwitz. Cherney and others have also advocated a "debt for nature" swap with Maxxam in return for Hurwitz's losses in USAT.

Thron's photos have been published in numerous magazines and his activities have clearly upset Maxxam, which has threatened to sue him unless he turns over all his photos to the company. Thron hasn't given up the slides and says he has given 170 slide show/lectures around the country.

Thron's presentation, sponsored by the Sierra Club, will be held at the First Unitarian Church, 4700 Grover, at 7pm on Tuesday, September 5.


MORE ON THE ESA AND TPWD. In this space two weeks ago, I recounted a possible shakeup within Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) regarding endangered species protection and studies on the Barton Springs Salamander. Now, a biologist from within the department is charging that the agency has repeatedly violated the Endangered Species Act. On August 20, Dean Keddy-Hector, a zoologist in the agency's natural heritage program, sent a letter to Mollie Beattie, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Copies were also sent to TPWD director Andy Sansom, and to Larry McKinney, TPWD's director of resource protection.

In the letter, Keddy-Hector writes, "there has been an internal conspiracy to cover up the impacts of potentially destructive activities which threaten the continued existence of species such as the San Marcos Wildrice, Fountain Darter, Black-Capped Vireo, and Golden-Cheeked Warbler and other endangered and threatened species. This conspiracy has involved direct suppression and distortion of supportive data, outright fabrication of statements... and threats to terminate any employee not willing to look the other way."

Keddy-Hector alleges that:

* TPWD suppressed evidence that water discharged from their fish hatchery in San Marcos would be detrimental to the San Marcos wildrice and the fountain darter;

* TPWD tried to suppress evidence showing cattle would harm vireo and warbler populations at the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan refuge system;

* There was "active harassment" of employees in the Natural Heritage Program, and;

* TPWD distributed educational materials that understated the range of habitats occupied by the warbler.

McKinney, when asked for a comment on Keddy-Hector's charges, initially said that none of them had any basis. Then he said, "There are a couple of issues in there that I am looking at, that I am investigating."

A decision on the future of the Heritage Program will be made at the TPWD commission today, September 1.


FREEPORT-INDONESIA UPDATE. More information continues to come out of Irian Jaya regarding human rights abuses near the Freeport-McMoRan mine site. The Australian Council for Overseas Aid, which released a report in April alleging that 37 local tribal people had been killed at the mine site in the past few months, just released a report by the Catholic Church of Jayapura, alleging further brutality against local Irianese people by the Indonesian military, including executions, torture, destruction of property, and arbitrary arrest.

The Church report alleges that:

* On Christmas Day of 1994, Indonesian military personnel killed a local man while he was aboard a Freeport bus.

* That same day, three civilians were tortured to death while inside a Freeport workshop known as Koperapoka.

* On May 31 of this year, 11 local people, including a minister from a local Protestant church, were shot to death.

The report includes the names of all those killed, tortured, or "disappeared." For a copy of the 27-page report, contact the Chronicle. We'll make one for you for $5. n

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