The Beginning of the End of Recycling?

Some welcome news from The Wall Street Journal that US recycling programs maybe on the verge of collapse. As it turns out, scrap paper and plastic prices have dropped resulting in municipalities to charge residents more to collect material for recycling since to do so recycliong is no longer profitable and the costs continue to climb.

U.S. recycling programs took off in the 1990s as calls to bury less trash in landfills coincided with China’s demand for materials such as corrugated cardboard to feed its economic boom. Shipping lines eagerly filled containers that had brought manufactured goods to the U.S. with paper, scrap metal and plastic bottles for the return trip to China.

As cities aggressively expanded recycling programs to keep more discarded household items out of landfills, the purity of U.S. scrap deteriorated as more trash infiltrated the recyclables. Discarded food, liquid-soaked paper and other contaminants recently accounted for as much as 20% of the material shipped to China, according to Waste Management Inc.’s estimates, double from five years ago.

The tedious and sometimes dangerous work of separating out that detritus at processing plants in China prompted officials there to slash the contaminants limit this year to 0.5%. China early this month suspended all imports of U.S. recycled materials until June 4, regardless of the quality. The recycling industry interpreted the move as part of the growing rift between the U.S. and China over trade policies and tariffs.

The changes have effectively cut off exports from the U.S., the world’s largest generator of scrap paper and plastic. Collectors, processors and the municipal governments that hire them are reconsidering what they will accept to recycle and how much homeowners will pay for that service. Many trash haulers and city agencies that paid for curbside collection by selling scrap said they are now losing money on almost every ton they handle.

The recycling industry and municipalities are trying to find alternatives but, in the end, it may not matter. Ultimately, there is no reason (environmental, moral or otherwise) to recycle trash since resources are not scarce. But recycling programs are in place because of the perception that something needs to be done out of the idea to sacrifice for future generations.

Recycling programs were created out of a demented notion that somehow people are the reason for polluting the planet and must make nature their highest value when it comes to collecting their trash in order to purify people of their sin for existing. That includes the mandatory taxes and fees that you are forced to pay in order to subsidize it.