Recycling is becoming less profitable in America

Aaron C. Davis has an excellent piece on this theme.  Here is one bit:

Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise. The District, Baltimore and many counties in between are contributing millions annually to prop up one of the nation’s busiest facilities here in Elkridge, Md. — but it is still losing money. In fact, almost every facility like it in the country is running in the red. And Waste Management and other recyclers say that more than 2,000 municipalities are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around.

But why?  According to Davis:

1. “A storm of falling oil prices, a strong dollar and a weakened economy in China have sent prices for American recyclables plummeting worldwide.”

2. Consumers are bringing too many items to recycling centers, and with inadequate sorting.

3. Larger bins have encouraged indiscriminate contributions: “Residents have also begun experimenting, perhaps with good intentions, tossing into recycling bins almost anything rubber, metal or plastic: garden hoses, clothes hangers, shopping bags, shoes, Christmas lights.”  A lot of people simply put in their garbage.

4. Many small problems are accumulating in the user contributions to recycling, such as consumers no longer breaking down their cardboard boxes as they used to.

5. The value of recycled newsprint and glass just isn’t that high right now.

Previously I had simply assumed that recycling technologies would scale rather easily and effortlessly, but maybe that isn’t the case:

“If people feel that recycling is important — and I think they do, increasingly — then we are talking about a nationwide crisis,” said David Steiner, chief executive of Waste Management, the nation’s largest recycler…

Do read the entire article, and while you’re at it Adam Minter’s Junkyard Planet.


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