“Recycling In Recent Years Has Become A Money-Sucking Enterprise.”

The Washington Post (WP) posted “American recycling is stalling, and the big dcrecycling61434652573blue bin is one reason why.” The posting was made June 20 and has been sitting in my “things to write about” box for a while. Yesterday’s report on Fox News about Seattle fining residents that put food, recyclable or yard waste in their garbage reminded me of that article.

So what is the reason for the recycling stalling? According to the article, recycling is no longer profitable.   The District of Columbia (DC) Council made a $1.2milion payment to Waste Management last year apparently to keep them recycling DC wastes. In 2011 DC made a profit of $389,000, but the situation has changed.

From the WP:

“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.”

“The Houston-based company’s recycling division posted a loss of nearly $16 million in the first quarter of the year. In recent months, it has shut nearly one in 10 of its biggest recycling facilities. An even larger percentage of its plants may go dark in the next 12 months, Steiner said.”

The WP said that for a while everything was going well and then there was a push to increase the recycling.   This was the result:

“Trying to encourage conservation, progressive lawmakers and environmentalists have made matters worse. By pushing to increase recycling rates with bigger and bigger bins — while demanding almost no sorting by consumers — the recycling stream has become increasingly polluted and less valuable, imperiling the economics of the whole system.”  

“Residue jumped a ton,” said Hallie Clemm, deputy administrator for the city’s solid waste management division. In fact, so much nonrecyclable material was being stuffed into the bins that after an audit by Waste Management last fall, the share of the city’s profit for selling recyclables plummeted by more than 50 percent.”

“That has driven up the city’s processing price for recyclables to almost $63 a ton — 24 percent higher than if it trucked all of its recycling material, along with its trash, to a Virginia incinerator.”

There are other problems.

”The problems of recycling in America are both global and local. A storm of falling oil prices, a strong dollar and a weakened economy in China have sent prices for American recyclables plummeting worldwide.”

“A large part of the problem for recyclers is falling global commodity prices — a phenomenon largely out of recyclers’ hands. But the negative impact of that trend is amplified by the contents of most recycling bins, because the composite of what Americans try to reuse has changed dramatically over the past decade.

Dwindling have been the once-profitable old newspapers, thick plastic bottles and aluminum cans that could be easily baled and reused.

With oil prices driving up transportation costs, manufacturers have engaged in a race to make packaging more lightweight. Coffee cans disappeared in favor of vacuum-packed aluminum bags; some tuna cans went the same way. Tin cans and plastic water bottles became thinner, too: The amount of plastic that once came from 22 bottles now requires 36.

There was an even more pronounced drop in newsprint. Long a lucrative recycling commodity, it’s not a key commodity market. In its place is something known as mixed residential paper: the junk mail, flattened cereal boxes and other paper items that these days can outweigh newspaper in a one-ton bale.”

A brief history of the recycling is discussed along with the ingenious means of separating waste from recyclables—all of which are worth the reading.

Back to Seattle— Seattle is using their trash pickup people to make sure that things are properly separated and to some it appears to be an issue of the “right to privacy”. The trash collectors are accused of breaking into the trash bags to inspect the content. The Fox posting can be seen by clicking here.

Some thoughts: Some find it ironic that the customer has to carefully sort the trash, pays for disposal of the trash, and then must pay the recycler for recycling (through city taxes). The landfill means of disposal may not be the perfect option, but incinerators might be. Or the combination of the two.   The rules for recycling where I live allow paper, aluminum and tin cans and plastic bottles. We basically recycle aluminum cans and based upon the Washington Post article that may be all that is worthwhile.


Recycle Trash photo: by Ricky Carioti/Washington Post

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