- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Something is stinky in the city of Santa Clarita. Shakespeare it isn’t; but true it is. A diaper-recycling company in California, relying on good intentions to clean up the environment, could clean out taxpayer wallets. Its plan: Today Santa Clarita, tomorrow the world.

The company is Knowaste LLC, and it’s not really a recycler at all but rather a subsidy collector. Indeed, diaper recycling “is an absurdity,” Peter Anderson of the Madison, Wis.-based consulting firm Recycle Worlds told me.

The folly in small upscale Santa Clarita, in northern Los Angeles County, shows why.

In the original six-month trial program, tons of dirty Pampers, Hugs and Luvs were hauled from homes to the Knowaste “recycling” facility, according to figures the company provided to the city. The cost per ton collected was more than $1,800. Astonishingly, only about 1 percent was converted into usable products.

The rest went into sewers or landfills because, according to company officials, it wasn’t fit for sale. Translation: Nobody wants to buy the stuff.

The managing editor of the Santa Clarita Signal newspaper made some calculations regarding the weight of “baby’s little present” and the cost of landfilling. Although he used highly conservative estimates for both, he seemed astonished to find: “It costs about $28 to dump a ton of trash at a landfill. So, for the same amount it would cost to recycle, say, nine diapers, you can dump 8,000 of them.”

But Knowaste survives and thrives because California taxpayers kicked in $250,000 for the pilot project while Santa Clarita added another quarter million. A hauling company does the special pickups for free.

Knowaste’s modus operandi is to get communities to recycle taxpayer funds into profits. It’s already had pilot programs in three Canadian cities — all of which flopped for the same reason that Santa Clarita’s has.

Rather than profit with dirty diapers, the company sends money to lobbyists and politicians. Much of $282,000 over the past two years went to a failed effort to tax the entire state to expand the program to encompass all of California.

So taxpayers have not so much been paying to subsidize diaper processing as to subsidize efforts to get them to pay more taxes.

But the straight poop is that, both economically and environmentally, diaper recycling reeks.

“Only non-ferrous metals, namely copper, and high-grade office papers have a lot of [recycling] value,” Mr. Anderson told me. Even aluminum-can recycling usually doesn’t pay for itself anymore, and to the extent newspapers do it’s only because of laws demanding that recycled newsprint be favored over virgin paper.

Well then, can diaper recycling help save the environment? On its Web site, Knowaste implies we don’t “have room in our landfills for all those diapers.” Rubbish.

All of the country’s trash generated over the next 1,000 years would fit into a landfill 44 miles square and merely 120 yards deep, according to professor Clark Wiseman of Spokane’s Gonzaga University. Says Mr. Anderson, “There’s enormous overcapacity for landfill space.”

Story Continues →