During the early part of the century, the rallying cry for environmentalists carried by the mainstream media was Reduce, Recycle, Reuse! After almost twenty years and millions of dollars spent, America is finally coming to the realization that recycling is garbage.
Almost ten years ago, Discover magazine vindicated what John Tierney wrote about in The New York Times Magazine in 1996 and what critics of recycling had been saying for many years. Approximately a year after the Discover article, a Columbia University research manuscript revealed that about 17 percent of all plastic items collected by New York City sanitation workers were recyclable and its authors admitting that nearly half of the plastics collected being landfilled.
Since the Columbia University study, it has been all downhill for recycling. Last weekend, The New York Times published a story describing how multiple cities across the United States are dumping (pun intended) recycling programs. The Grey Lady states:
Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it. Those are just three of the hundreds of towns and cities across the country that have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted or agreed to huge price increases.
A large part of the reason for this is China stopped accepting recycled materials from the US last year. The country used to be the largest purchaser of American recycled material. India and Thailand still do somewhat but it is not to the extent the Chinese did and not enough to make up for the volume lost once China closed its gates.
California, the state that pioneered recycling, is (according to its state Treasurer) in a crisis moment. However, what recycling’s dirty little secret (pun intended) is, is that its benefits have been problematic for sometime. The most striking admission and signal that recycling’s days are over is the blunt admission by Recycle Across America’s Mitch Hedlund who was quoted by The Times saying: recycling has been dysfunctional for a long time.
It has taken almost twenty years and millions of dollars spent, but what hundreds of cities across America are doing clearly shows that Americans are finally realizing that recycling is not a moral or legal obligation.