Scraponomics Episode 86: What's the Goal?

Jun 25, 2015, 01:13 PM

“By pushing to increase recycling rates with bigger and bigger bins — while demanding almost no sorting by consumers — the recycling stream has become increasingly polluted and less valuable, imperiling the economics of the whole system.” — Aaron Davis, reporter for the Washington Post

This past week, an article was written in the Washington Post called American recycling is stalling, and the big blue bin is one reason why by reporter Aaron Davis. In many ways, we feel we could have written it. The article illustrates much of what we’ve been saying for decades; that increasing curbside collection with the single-stream method only hinders the economic viability of the recycling process. When the focus is getting people to participate in recycling rather than educating the public on how to sort material the right way in the first place, it takes something that was once profitable for everyone, from private companies to public entities, and turns it into a money-sucking machine.

The reason for this is that in order for material to be recycled at all, it needs to be separated and cleaned first. When my dad consulted with the City of Lansing to implement their recycling program in the 1980s, he suggested ways to make it more cost-effective (i.e. picking up different materials on different days). As a result, Friedland used to send the City a check every month for their recyclables. On the contrary, today, their current single-stream method is most-likely costing them money to send to a facility in Ann Arbor.

There comes a point when we need ask ourselves, What is the goal here? Is the goal to make people feel good or is it to make the process work? Recycling is profitable when it’s done correctly.

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