Recycling Is Cancelled

Trouble in the global market means trouble at home when it comes to recycling. Municipalities are having trouble paying the extra cost for recycling programs as China stops accepting U.S. waste.
March 19, 2019, 7am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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"Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country," reports Michael Corkery.

Corkery cites "hundreds of towns and cities" across the country, including very large examples like Philadelphia and Memphis, that are giving up on recycling as costs spiral beyond feasibility.

"Prompting this nationwide reckoning is China, which until January 2018 had been a big buyer of recyclable material collected in the United States," according to Corkery. "That stopped when Chinese officials determined that too much trash was mixed in with recyclable materials like cardboard and certain plastics. After that, Thailand and India started to accept more imported scrap, but even they are imposing new restrictions."

Recycling companies are charging customers more as a result of the changes in the global market, and municipalities are faced with tough choices about how to cover the extra cost.

Still, sources cited in the article say recycling has been dysfunctional for much longer than the recent crisis indicates. "Analysts say many waste companies had historically viewed recycling as a 'loss leader,' offering the service largely to win over a municipality’s garbage business," according to Corkery.

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Published on Monday, March 18, 2019 in The New York Times
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