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Editorial

Newspapers don’t belong in state recycling bill

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State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who chairs the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, has introduced legislation in the Senate that could cripple magazines and newspapers across the state, particularly smaller community newspapers without a large online presence.

While we believe the intent behind Kaminsky’s measure — the Extended Producer Responsibility Act (S.1185B) — is admirable, it does not account for its potential effect on magazines and newspapers, long considered necessary ingredients of a working democracy.

While it might seem self-serving for a newspaper to oppose legislation that could hurt our industry, there is the big picture to consider if the measure were to cause an increasing number of magazines and newspapers to go under. What would be the effect on society? Would we see more “news deserts” — holes in coverage where people were unaware of what was happening in their own backyards because no one was there to tell their stories?

Undoubtedly, the answer is yes. This is why the Heralds oppose the legislation.

If passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the measure would shift responsibility for the recycling of paper, plastic, glass and aluminum packaging and products from local municipalities, including our towns and villages, to the manufacturers in an attempt to force them to reduce packaging, thus decreasing waste in our landfills and the need for recycling.

There is no way for magazines and newspapers, however, to reduce their use of paper without shifting completely to online reporting, which is still in its infancy — it’s been around a mere 25 years. Most newspapers, even the big dailies, are simply not ready to make such a bold move. Print advertising, in many ways, remains the engine that drives our industry.

Kaminsky — and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, chairman of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee — should exclude newspapers from any extended producer responsibility legislation, in the same way that books are.

The act’s primary intent is to reduce the amount of packaging that manufacturers use to contain anything from milk to children’s toys and everything in between. From this perspective, the proposal makes a great deal of sense. Manufacturers have consistently upped the ante over the decades, moving from minimal packaging to excessive, and superfluous, packaging, most often intended to increase the marketability of their products.

All that packaging — much of which is not recyclable — has caused a glut of waste that is sent to our incinerators and landfills. As a nation, we’re drowning in packaging. In this respect, shifting responsibility for recycling would, first, encourage manufacturers to use more recyclable or recycled packaging, and second, force them to reduce their packaging, period.

Magazines and newspapers, however, are not packaging — they are the product — and thus they belong in a different category, and should be excluded from this type of legislation.

The Kaminsky and Englebright measures address the recycling crisis that has gripped the nation. In 2018, Chinese officials decided that their country would no longer purchase recyclables for reuse from the U.S., claiming that the material they were receiving was often contaminated. Paper products, for example, were stained by food and drink, rendering them useless, so the Chinese were paying for recyclables they couldn’t turn into new products.

The Kaminsky/Englebright legislation, however, does not specifically address how we would recycle. It merely states that “a convenient system for consumers to recycle” would have to be set up.

The common practice of comingling recyclables — plastic and glass with aluminum and paper — makes no sense, because anything wet on the plastic, glass and aluminum — most often food — ruins the paper. The answer is dual-stream recycling, in which plastic, glass, aluminum and paper products are separated by the homeowner at the curb in different containers. The Village of Valley Stream adopted the practice last year in reaction to China’s decision not to accept U.S. recyclables.

Along with its rollout of the dual-stream program, Valley Stream undertook an intensive educational campaign to help residents better understand what can, and cannot, be recycled. The Kaminsky and Englebright measures do address the need for greater education, the cost of which manufacturers would have to bear.

Clearly, recycling is a complex issue, but lumping magazines and newspapers in with packaging sends a terrible and confusing signal to the public. Excluding them from the Extended Producer Responsibility Act, as has most often been the case when such legislation has been enacted in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe, would only be right.