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Is There a Time When Recycling is Not Worth the Time, Effort and Money?

Featured post by Richard Johnson

What are the true costs of recycling and how does the extended producer liability initiative help?

You have probably heard how important recycling is for you, your family, and the planet. You might get annoyed hearing it over and over, but that thought is not exactly without merit because there are a few problems related to recycling that you may not know about.

Who takes care of recyclables?

You take your recycling materials to where it is accepted but what happens afterwards? The truth is small communities, townships, and municipalities become responsible for recycling all that waste.

And, you might think that this is great since everyone is chipping in to help the planet. This might be true, but the problem is it might be putting unnecessary financial stress on your community and this country as a whole.

Of course, no one is suggesting that recycling should be a forgotten project unless you want cities inundated with trash. But a new system needs to be put in place because governments are spending around 1.5 billion dollars to recycle all the waste. Some cities that are getting the bottom end of the stick include Columbia, South Carolina and Florence, Alabama though there are more regions deeply affected.

Wasn’t recycling supposed to pay for itself?

Most people remember these three words: recycle, reduce, reuse. Chances are you saw them on a shirt, poster, or spoken about by some character on Saturday morning cartoons. Everyone was supposed to recycle to make this whole idea work in a positive way. But there are a few problems, like lazy recyclers.

Lazy recyclers are people who simply are not recycling. Only 35 percent of people are recycling, but the rest are absent from the green party doing who knows what with their recyclables. The city becomes responsible for recycling all that trash afterwards.

It would work out better for a city if all these recyclables were actually worth money but therein lies another problem. Many of the items that you are supposed to recycle are not worth much. Take, glass, which is only worth negative 300 dollars a ton. And, worse of all, there are not many companies actually purchasing the material, even though it is easy to melt down and reuse. It is costing the community much more to pick up and attempt to sell the material.

This does not mean there are no profitable materials, like metal. One example is aluminum, which takes a company more to make than simply reuse. In fact, recycling aluminum saves a company around 90 to 95 percent on energy. Apparently, money talks way louder than the environmental impact some companies could be averting by investing in recycling. But most of the materials trashed are plastic, cardboard, and paper.

In short, recycling is not paying for itself, and it is partly the fault of the community, as well as companies who are just not committed to the green cause.

What can be done?

One expert proposes the idea of truly implementing more recycling bins for people to use. But they need to better enforce the law because separating all those recyclables is simply not cost-effective. Perhaps the US can do things like separate organic materials versus materials that are not recyclable once the people really take recycling seriously.

The organic material can be buried while the other non-recyclable material is kept away to ensure that decomposition of organic material occurs naturally and without interference of excess methane. Excess methane production is what happens in landfills, which does not allow organic materials to deteriorate as they should. The separation of landfills is a model adopted from Europe.

Another initiative that is being pushed forward is to make companies a little more responsible. The initiative is called Extended Producer Liability, or EPR, which is basically asking manufacturers to pick up their own trash. Okay, that is not what the initiative actually says; the words are less combative. But the idea is to have manufacturers who make all those cans, cardboard boxes, and what not help pick up the bill. The initiative will encourage companies to start investing in recycling campaigns that might help improve participation. What about deposits on every type of packaging similar to bottles and aluminum cans? This model has worked wonders in states that have implemented this law. Make the recyclable materials worth more in the initial step. People by nature act differently to items with value as opposed to garbage.

Recycling needs to take place on the industrial level as well. Many industries and business models produce waste such as dry cleaning, construction, furniture and textiles manufacturing all produce large volumes of waste. Waste from coal-fired power plants is another huge and toxic problem. One option may be to look at these materials as by-products rather than waste.Take for example the steel industry. Millions of tons of materials were once moved from mills into landfills, taking up valuable space and resources. These days the steel industry deals with “by-products”, keeping these streams clean and separated so they can be sold and reused in other industries. Materials such as slags, Mill Scale, dusts and powders all have other uses if the time is taken to properly place them. Scraps from the furnaces find their way back to other melting operations to be used in new products. It seems putting a monetary value on so called waste materials of any type may be the best option to keep our recycling industries and habits moving forward.


Richard Johnson runs MineralRecycling.com, a website property of Saucon Resources for posting current and upcoming projects as well a materials available for sale. 

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