Ever since the industrial revolution and the end of World War II, American consumption has been increasing. Single use plastics, paper products, and glass have become more common, and even clothing has become quickly disposable, entering secondhand stores faster than it can be sold.
As Americans continue to burn through more stuff, materials that they recycle and donate do not go where intended; according to the Atlantic, as little as 9 percent of plastic gets recycled, an estimated 85 percent of clothing donated ends up in landfills every year, and only about 15 percent of recycled textiles actually get recycled.
Although recycling rates have been increasing over the last few decades, Americans still generated nearly five pounds of trash per person a day in 2015 while only recycling about 34.7 percent of their consumed materials.
Due to the increasing standards for purity of recycled materials, much of what is put in the recycling bin now ends up in a landfill or an incinerator. It costs business and city governments more to recycle than to opt out, creating a chain of waste that will cost us more in the end.
Whereas recycling used to at least break even in Franklin, New Hampshire, it now costs too much for the city to inflict on its citizens, 1/5 of which are below the poverty line.
In Broadway Virginia, the recycling program of 22 years has been halted because the price went up 63 percent.
Fort Edward, New York suspended their recycling program in July after months of incinerating recyclables.
Some opt to hoard their recyclables in hopes that the industry will make a comeback, like the nonprofit Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful that has collected 400,000 tons of plastic.
Burning plastic may create some energy, but it also produces carbon emissions and releases harmful chemicals like mercury and lead, endangering lower income and minority areas the most that are nearest to the incinerators.
Aside from the damage to the planet and public health, not recycling has economic costs. Although cities may save money in the short-term by avoiding service fees, they will start to pay for it as they run low on landfill space nearby and have to ship their waste hundreds of miles away.
Dumps are receiving an influx of waste to dispose of, and they’re raising their prices to match. These costs will be passed from the city to the consumers until everyone pays for the loss in recycling except the corporations at the top of the chain.
Until companies bear the costs of their product’s disposal, they won’t have the incentive to manufacture products that are biodegradable, easily recyclable, or produced from recycled materials.
One way that individuals can fight back is to avoid products that are not produced with sustainability in mind; but the current market makes this nearly impossible. Spending is what makes the economy go around, but will it make recycling burn out for good?
Berg Mill has a long history as one of the pioneers in the industry, and we are not going anywhere even when faced with recyclable import changes. If you continue to handle large amounts of recycled waste and are looking for solutions to offload idle scrap, please contact our industry veterans at Berg Mill Supply.