Consumers who put contaminated products in the recycling bin are partly to blame
According to the report, cities and towns which once made money off recycling are having to pay high fees to have their recyclables processed, and in some cases, those recycling plants are having to shut down, leaving local governments with no other option but to take the recycling to the landfill.
The downturn in the industry, AP reported, is mainly due China’s decision to no longer purchase recyclables from the United States. Once the world’s top buyer of waste paper, plastic and metal, the Chinese regime enacted environmental legislation that would ban such products unless they are 99.5% free of contaminants such as foam cups and food waste. That is an unattainable level, according to the report, which noted that recycling plants in the U.S. are designed to produce paper and plastic that are 97% free of contaminants.
Adding to the decrease in demand, is the increase in contaminates due to consumers’ failure to properly sort and clean their waste products. With today’s single-stream recycling, consumers no longer have to sort paper, plastic, glass and metal in separate bins, which has made things easier, but has also led to some careless habits.
One-third of the material picked up by one recycling facility, for example, was found to be contaminated by the inclusion of food waste and non-recyclable items such as garden hoses, picnic coolers, and broken lawnmowers, according to the report.
“The death of recycling was completely avoidable and incredibly easily fixed,” says Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America, which supports initiatives, such as ones currently under way in Rhode Island and Chicago, to better educate people on what can and cannot be recycled.
While recycling plants look for new markets to offset the loss of China as a customer, the report noted that they are in in the process of renegociating contracts with local governments to reflect the decrease in market value of recycled products.
“What we’re advocating is to step back and re-look at recycling,” Richard Coupland, of the Phoenix recycling company, Republic Services, told AP. “This is the new normal. The model no longer funds itself.”
Read the rest of the Associated Press report here.