Maintain Recycling Lies or Face Reality

Recycling was premised that there is not enough room in landfills and that a lot of plastics can and should be recycled.

All the garbage produced in the U.S. for the next 1000 years could fit into a landfill 100 yards deep and 35 miles across on each side. There is enough room in landfills to hold the world’s garbage.

In 2010, only one sixth of the plastics that was collected was actually recycled. Most ended up in landfills. Most plastic is not suitable for recycling.

China was the main destination for recycled material for many years, but China has chosen to stop accepting recycled material. This has dropped the price paid for collected recycle material. The economics for recycling were already marginal or had a loss. China dropping from the market means that value per ton of collected recycle material has cratered.

Many cities in the US and elsewhere are either incinerating recycled material, placing it in landfills or they are stopping the recycling programs entirely.

Richard Coupland III, vice president of municipal sales, Republic Services (recycling and garbage company) has written about recycling.

Richard says the recycling model in the United States is fundamentally broken, and while many factors contribute to this issue, the net effects are that the economics of the business are in the trash. 

In the late 1980s, the price paid per household was artificially low. Why? Local cities and towns wanted residents to adopt the new service. The national average price per home was around $2.00 per month for weekly collection. The actual cost to run the collection operation was around $5.00 per month.

Processing costs were relatively low (around $60/ton). That’s because the material collected was limited to the basics (think newspaper, metal, aluminum, plastics, and glass), with little contamination. The result? The value of the commodity sales (about $200 per ton) easily covered the operational costs of recycling, even after disposing of contamination and residual in the stream.

Today, the average price per home for collection has not grown much and sits around $3.00 per month. The cost of simply getting a collection truck to an average household today is up to about $7.00.

The costs to operate processing centers have almost doubled to more than $100/ton. This is due to the need for more sophisticated sorting equipment and the growing problem of adding labor to sort through increased contamination in the material stream. Last but not least, the value from the commodities at has dropped to an average value of $100/ton. This large drop in value is attributed to market disruptions from China’s exit from the recycling market.

SOURCES – International City/County Management Association, Foundation for Economic Education, Popular Mechanics