Recycling in the U.S. Is Broken. How Do We Fix It?
Recycling in the U.S. is broken. In 1960, Americans generated 2.68 pounds of garbage per day; by 2017, it had grown to an average of 4.51 pounds. And while many Americans dutifully put items into their recycling bins, much of it does not actually end up being recycled. This post will explain why, and talk about potential solutions.
Why recycling isn’t working in the U.S.
Many recyclables become contaminated when items are placed in the wrong bin, or when a dirty food container gets into the recycling bin. Contamination can prevent large batches of material from being recycled. Other materials can’t be processed in certain facilities.
Moreover, many items that are collected, such as plastic straws and bags, eating utensils, yogurt and takeout containers often cannot be recycled. They usually end up being incinerated, deposited in landfills or washed into the ocean. While incineration is sometimes used to produce energy, waste-to-energy plants have been associated with toxic emissions in the past.
Landfills emit carbon dioxide, methane, volatile organic compounds and other hazardous pollutants into the air. And our oceans are drowning in plastic waste.
For decades, China handled the recycling of almost half of the world’s discarded materials, because its manufacturing sector was booming and needed these materials to feed it. In 2016, the U.S. exported 16 million tons of plastic, paper and metals to China. In actuality, 30 percent of these mixed recyclables were ultimately contaminated by non-recyclable material, were never recycled, and ended up polluting China’s countryside and oceans. An estimated 1.3 to 1.5 million metric tons of plastic found its way into the ocean off China’s coast each year.
In 2018, China’s National Sword policy banned the import of most plastics and other materials that were not up to new, more stringent purity standards. The U.S. then sent its plastic waste to other countries, shipping 68,000 containers to Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand in 2018. When these countries later instituted bans on imported plastic waste, the U.S. diverted its waste to Cambodia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Laos, Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal — countries with cheap labor and lax environmental rules. The U.S. still ships over 1 million metric tons a year of plastic waste abroad, often to countries already overwhelmed by it. Experts estimate that 20 to 70 percent of plastic intended for recycling overseas is unusable and is ultimately discarded. One study found that the plastic waste exported to Southeast Asia resulted in contaminated water, crop death, respiratory illnesses due to toxic fumes from incineration, and organized crime.
When the market disappeared
Without the Chinese market for plastic — as well as for some types of cardboard, paper, and glass — the U.S. recycling industry was upended.
“The economics are challenging,” said Nilda Mesa, director of the Urban Sustainability and Equity Planning Program at the Earth Institute’s Center for Sustainable Urban Development. “If there is not a market for the recycled material, then the numbers do not work for these facilities as well as cities, as they need to sell the materials to recoup their costs of collection and transportation, and even then it’s typically only a portion of the costs.”
As a result, U.S. processing facilities and municipalities have either had to pay more to recycle or simply discard the waste. In 2017, Stamford, CT made $95,000 by selling recyclables; in 2018, it had to pay $700,000 to have them removed. Bakersfield, CA used to earn $65 a ton from its recyclables; after 2018, it had to pay $25 a ton to get rid of them. Franklin, NH had been able to sell its recyclables for $6 a ton; now the transfer station charges $125 a ton to recycle the material or $68 a ton to incinerate it.
Municipalities that couldn’t afford to pay more have cut back on their recycling programs. Over 70 ended curbside recycling (though several have been reinstituted after public protests), and many drop-off sites closed; some programs increased costs to residents while others limited what materials they would accept.
The state of U.S. recycling today
Because U.S. recycling was dependent on China for so many years, our domestic recycling infrastructure was never developed, so there was no economical or efficient way to handle recycling when the market disappeared.
“The way the system is configured right now, recycling is a service that competes — and unsurprisingly often loses — for local funding that is also needed for schools, policing, et cetera,” said Stephanie Kersten-Johnston, an adjunct professor in Columbia University’s Sustainability Management Master’s Program and director of circular ventures at The Recycling Partnership. “Without dedicated investment, recycling infrastructure won’t be sufficient. In addition, we need to resolve the simple math equation that currently exists — when it’s cheap to landfill, recycling will not be ‘worthwhile’ so we need to start to recognize what landfill really is: a waste of waste!”
Making the situation more complicated—the U.S. does not have a federal recycling program. “Recycling decision-making is currently in the hands of 20,000 communities in the U.S., all of which make their own choices about whether and what to recycle,” said Kersten-Johnston. “Many stakeholders with many different interests converge around this topic and we need to find common ground and goals to avoid working against one another. That means companies coming together with communities, recyclers, haulers, manufacturers and consumers to try to make progress together.”
What actually gets recycled?
According to the EPA, of the 267.8 million tons of municipal solid waste generated by Americans in 2017, only 94.2 million tons were recycled or composted.
Sixty-six percent of discarded paper and cardboard was recycled, 27 percent of glass, and 8 percent of plastics were recycled. Glass and metal can be recycled indefinitely; paper can be recycled five to seven times before it’s too degraded to be made into “new” paper; plastic can only be recycled once or twice—and usually not into a food container—since the polymers break down in the recycling process.
Single-stream recycling, where all recyclables are placed into the same bin, has made recycling easier for consumers, but results in about one-quarter of the material being contaminated.
Plastic recycling presents the biggest challenge because the plastic is often contaminated by other materials and consumer goods companies are reluctant to buy recycled plastic unless it is as pure as virgin plastic.
Although companies that make and sell plastic push the idea that recycling is the answer to the plastic pollution problem, six times more plastic waste is incinerated than is recycled. The CEO of Recology, a company that collects and processes municipal solid waste, wrote in a 2018 op-ed, “The simple fact is, there is just too much plastic—and too many different types of plastics being produced; and there exist few, if any, viable end markets for the material.” Moreover, because of the glut of natural gas and the resulting boom in U.S. petrochemical production, virgin plastic is now cheaper than recycled plastic.
A recent Greenpeace report found that some PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) plastic bottles are the only types of plastic that are truly recyclable in the U.S. today; and yet only 29 percent of PET bottles are collected for recycling, and of this, only 21 percent of the bottles are actually made into recycled materials due to contamination. China used to accept plastics #3 through #7, which were mostly burned for fuel. Today #3 – #7 plastics may be collected in the U.S., but they are not typically recycled; they usually end up incinerated, buried in landfills or exported. In fact Greenpeace is asking companies such as Nestle, Walmart, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever that label their products made with #3 -#7 plastics as “recyclable” to stop or it will file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission for mislabeling.
Textiles are another large source of waste. Only 15.2 percent of textiles were recycled in the U.S. in 2017. And while the fashion industry is trying to refashion old clothing and vintage items are now chic, this movement is not big enough to solve the problem.
Food waste is by tonnage the most significant source of waste, according to Mesa. “Some cities and countries in northern Europe have had success with using organic waste as a source of energy. And while waste to energy facilities exist in the U.S., there is a history of some of these facilities in the past being sited near vulnerable populations,” she said. “While the technology (including air pollution measures) has advanced, it still raises questions. As technology advances and as the search for green energy ramps up in U.S. cities, however, this may become a more appealing option for cities and regions in the future.”
What are the solutions?
The global market for high quality recycled materials is actually growing. Global demand for paper and cardboard is expected to grow by 1.2 percent a year, mainly due to the growth in e-commerce and the need for packaging; recycled paper will be essential to meeting this demand.
And the global plastic recycling market is projected to grow by $14.74 billion between now and 2024. As a result, companies are trying to enhance the quality of recycled plastic as well as incorporate it into the plastic products they produce. Plastic waste, especially PET and HDPE, is being recycled into packaging, building and constructions, electronics, automotive, furniture, textiles and more.
The key to fixing recycling in the U.S. is developing the domestic market. This means improving the technology for sorting and recovering materials, incorporating more recycled material into products, getting these products into the marketplace and creating demand for them.
“What has worked,” said Mesa, “is where institutions and cities require a percentage of recycled content for their purchasing, for example, requiring 100 percent recycled paper, or recycled materials in building materials…A growth in demand for recycled content, or reused content can be driven by changes in regulations and purchasing commitments, and their enforcement.” Another effective measure, she added, is for institutions or governments to limit the disposal of construction and demolition debris, to encourage recycling instead. “These both set up a stable system that then allows for the growth of markets for reused and recycled materials, as well as the facilities that can process them,” said Mesa.
If recycling processors have a market where they can sell their material, they will be motivated to invest in better equipment that can sort materials to minimize contamination, and it will make economic sense to expand recycling programs.
Here are some places where recycling is working relatively well.
San Francisco, which has set a zero waste goal for 2020, keeps 80 percent of its waste out of landfills. The city requires residents and companies to separate their waste into three streams, employing blue bins for recyclables, green for compostables (the city diverts 80 percent of its food waste) and black for material intended for the landfill. Food vendors have to use compostable or recyclable containers, and every event in San Francisco must offer recycling and composting. Starting July 1, stores will charge 25 cents for checkout bags, including bags for takeout and delivery.
Los Angeles recycles almost 80 percent of its waste, with a goal to recycle 90 percent by 2025. Restaurants are required to compost their food waste, and companies get a break on their taxes based on how much they recycle. In addition, an initiative called “Rethink LA” helps residents understand the importance of recycling and composting.
In Austin, TX, which is aiming to divert 75 percent of its waste by this year, all properties must provide recycling and composting to their tenants and employees. Large construction projects must reuse or recycle at least half of their debris.
Germany recycles 56 percent of its trash by providing different colored bins for different colored glass and other items. The country uses the Green Dot recycling system: When a green dot is placed on packaging material, it indicates that the manufacturer contributes to the cost of collection and recycling. These manufacturers pay a license fee to a waste collection company that is calculated on weight in order to get their packaging picked up, sorted and recycled.
South Korea recycles about 54 percent of its trash, including 95 percent of its food waste. The country dramatically cut food waste by providing bins for organic waste that are weighed — the more they weigh, the more residents are charged. Recyclables are picked up for free, but there is a charge for disposal of other trash, determined by its weight.
Other countries with good recycling rates are Wales, Switzerland, Austria, Japan and Taiwan. Japan requires residents to wash items, remove labels, and fold cartons, and waste must be labeled so that individuals are held accountable. Residents of the tiny village of Kamikatsu sort their trash into 34 categories, with the goal to achieve zero waste this year.
Taiwan recycles 55 percent of its residential and commercial trash, and 77 percent of its industrial waste. Yellow trucks go through neighborhoods playing music to let residents know it’s time to dump their trash; white trucks follow behind carrying 13 different bins into which residents sort their recyclables. Recyclables are then sent to companies like Miniwiz that transform them into building materials. In addition, smart recycling booths accept bottles and cans in exchange for added value to transit cards.
Strategies that work
Minimizing contamination of recyclables and the flow of recyclable items to landfills requires consumer awareness. Community events, campaigns, and brochures are necessary to educate residents about the importance of reusing, recycling and composting, as well as how to properly recycle in their particular community. They need to understand which items are actually recyclable and which are not.
Incentives and penalties
These can be used to promote recycling and waste reduction. For example, residents and companies can be incentivized to reduce waste if they have to pay more for discarding more. Additional payments or a contract extension can encourage waste contractors to divert more waste.
In 2020, more than 37 states are considering over 250 bills to deal with plastic pollution and recycling, according to the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. These include bans on single-use plastic and food ware, single-use bag and polystyrene bans; bottle bills; holding producers responsible for product disposal; and other recycling laws.
Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) and Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) recently introduced the Break Free From Plastic Act into Congress. The bill includes bans on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene; requirements for companies that make packaging or food ware to be responsible for their waste collection; a national container deposit system that would charge a refundable deposit on all single-use beverage bottles; standardized labeling on recycling bins; and a suspension on permits for the building of new plastic-producing plants.
Eight states have bans on single-use plastic bags. Jennie Romer, founder of PlasticBagLaws.org, says that hybrid bans that ban thin plastic carryout bags and also impose a charge for paper or any other bags are the most effective. Chicago’s hybrid ban cut plastic bag use in half; and in San Jose, the hybrid ban with a 10-cent charge for paper bags led to an increase in reusable bag use from 4 percent to 62 percent. On March 1, NYC instituted a plastic bag ban that charges 5 cents for taking a paper carry out bag.
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) requires companies that make products to be responsible—financially or physically—for their management and disposal at the end of their lives. Companies can do this through recycling or reusing products, buying them back, or they may hire a third party to deal with their waste management. EPR shifts the financial burden from local governments to manufacturers, which also motivates companies to design and produce more sustainable products. The EU has had an EPR program on packaging since 1994.
Container deposit laws or “bottle bills” which charge a refundable deposit on all single-use beverage bottles, whether plastic, metal or glass, “are the single most effective means of boosting recycling,” according to the Sierra Club. Ten states already have bottle bills, and six more are considering them.
Many companies are trying to come up with better ways of dealing with waste, from chemical recycling, which uses chemicals or high heat to turn plastic into its original components for reuse, to new ways to make recycling simpler.
Oregon-based Agilyx breaks down hard-to-recycle and contaminated plastics to their molecular level; it can then be made into high-grade synthetic oils, chemicals and other plastics. The company says all the recycled plastic can be reused an infinite number of times.
A Seattle recycling service called Ridwell collects hard-to-discard items such as plastic wrap and bags, light bulbs and electronics, which Seattle no longer collects. For a fee of $10 to $14 a month, customers get a bi-weekly pickup of these items. Ridwell then distributes the items to other places for recycling, reuse or destruction. In 2019, the company diverted 170,000 pounds of waste from the landfill.
PureCycle Technologies has patented a process to remove the color, odor and contaminants from polypropylene plastic (used for bottle caps) and turn it into a “virgin-like resin.”
Until now, only one percent of polypropylene has been recycled, even though it is the second most common plastic in the world. It has mostly been recycled into black or gray products, such as benches or car parts, but once purified, it has the potential for many more applications.
Loop creates reusable and returnable packaging for consumer products. Items in the Loop store are shipped to buyers in containers for which they pay a deposit; when the containers are returned to Loop in the reusable shipping box, buyers receive a full refund. Carrefour grocery stores are using Loop in France, and Kroger’s and Walgreen’s in the U.S. will soon sign on.
What you can do
“It will only ever make economic sense to recycle a small subset of materials, which means we will have to look beyond recycling alone to solve for our broader waste,” said Kersten-Johnson. “We need to tap into new business models that allow us to reduce our consumption in the first place, and re-use materials where we can. This can include things like rental or service models. But while we work to scale these types of solutions, we can’t take our eyes off recycling.”
- Learn which recycling symbols correspond to which types of plastic so you know what is recyclable
- Understand what items and materials your community recycles
- Keep a recycling bin handy
- Rinse out bottles, cans and food containers before recycling
- Buy recycled products or items incorporating recycled material
- Buy and store products in jars, not plastic containers
- Buy the biggest size possible and apportion it out at home
- Shop farmers’ markets and bulk food aisles
- Store produce in reusable produce bags
- Don’t buy single-use items
- Urge your representatives to introduce waste-reducing legislation
Here are more tips from the Natural Resources Defense Council .
China’s decision to stop accepting the world’s contaminated materials may ultimately prove to be a boon to the U.S. recycling industry. In a CNBC report, Ron Gonen, CEO of Closed Loop Partners, said, “Long term, it’s going to be a major benefit because it’s going to force the industry to be much much more efficient, and produce a much higher quality product that will actually be able to be used in domestic manufacturing supply chains.” According to the report, the U.S. has invested over $4.4 billion in new and retooled facilities that recover materials; these improvements include advanced technologies such as robotics and optical sorting to deal with the material from mixed streams. Gonen said, “It’s forcing everybody to focus on efficiency, product design, and reuse of material.”
I am so glad to read this article. It’s very informative, and answers questions I’ve had re: recycling for months. I have a hard time understanding why more states will not initiate a ban on single use plastic bags … this is unconscionable! Please do what you can to put the pressure on stores and states and people to reduce the use of toxic plastics! as well as reduce the use of our world’s resources as a whole.
Apply pressure locally and have your own community push hard with local officials on franchise owners to stop ordering and supplying bags. We did it in Carpinteria California and you cannot get one use plastic bags at any of our stores… if we have a solution, bring your own reusable bags, why would it not be immediately implemented. Its a simple solution in front of our eyes to make a big step and we don’t use it? Not logical at all; especially if our rationalizing for keeping them is because if the convenience of customers. Bullshit
Judith, I am with you completely. I don’t understand why we are still doing this. Somebody needs to make a stink about it. Maybe I will!
Unfortunately, the plastics industry has limited many cities and municipalities from enacting single-use plastic bans or bag taxes by lobbying for pre-emption laws at the state level. https://www.plasticbaglaws.org/preemption.
See also this National Geographic article: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/map-shows-the-complicated-landscape-of-plastic-bans
Hi my name is jenny since the cronovirus has started lots of recycled cans have piled up . i was hoping to find a solution since all reclying bins are closed down .. Could it be possosible to make one big location spread out through the nation were it would be safe enough for people to come and recycle there cans and maybe even juice bottle and laundry bottles ect . thank you
Great article! I wish more people knew about it for bigger impacts, and i’m going to do just that! I don’t know the details yet but I’ve created an interesting poster that’s sure to catch attention, and it’s referring this site! It’s not much but this is just a first for me!
-Fifth grader, 11
The solution is partly a mandated return to (biodegradable) paper and cardboard packaging. Also, quite a few years ago I read that a biodegradable plastic (made from living plants, I believe) had been developed in Japan. I’m not certain, but I think biodegradable plastic is currently being put to limited use. There could be more research in developing a biodegradable plastic equivalent to some of the petrochemical plastic that is overwhelmingly put to use today. Good luck in getting the plastics industry to do this rather than doing what is probably most profitable for them.
I very much agree.
Plastic #8 is plant based and compostable at industrial composting facilities. Some ketchup bottles are #8 for example.
Biodegradable plastic is justified as a bad solution by, among other things, the energy required to produce it, the unfavorable environmental effects of production and the large carbon footprint.
Experts reject the use of biodegradable plastic – “It could be reasonable to even ban consumer use”.
This article is not entirely accurate. I live in Urbana, IL, where we have a comprehensive recycling program. After I read this blog post, I reached out to them about resin codes #3-7. They tell me that *everything* is recycled (not dumped or burned): Here’s the email I received:
Good afternoon. Thanks for your questions! Yes, Urbana’s U-Cycle programs accept all food and beverage 1-7 plastics containers, and they are being recycled. There was problems with plastic recycling due to the China ban for municipalities on the East and West coasts, but fortunately in the Midwest we have domestic markets for these plastics! Once our contractor sorts and bales the plastics they are sold to specific regional brokers. The brokers sell the #1 plastics (PET like soda bottles) to Shaw Industries in Georgia to make eco-friendly carpet! The manufacturers shred or pelletize the plastic containers and use that as a feedstock to make new products! Milk jugs, (#2 HDPE) are sent to the Chicago area to be made into park benches.
The question you are referring to – The #3-7 plastics Urbana accepts in our program are sent as a mixed load to a manufacturer in Haviland Ohio to make drainage pipes. Those pipes are used for farm fields, highways and commercial applications. We are fortunate in the U-Cycle program/Midwest to have a market for 3-7 plastics.
Please continue to place your #3-7 plastic food and beverage containers in your U-Cart! We do recycle them! And it makes a difference!
We do not ship our plastics to other countries because it would not be economically feasible. We are fortunate to have the domestic markets in Georgia, Ohio and Chicago area for our plastics. We do not landfill any plastics other than plastics that are not accepted in the U-Cycle program such as plastics toys, plastic clothes hangers, etc. that I find in carts on occasion. Those plastics we do not have a market for so we encourage residents to read our recycling guide to ensure what they are placing in their U-Cart is acceptable.
If anything were to change regarding the plastics markets I would notify Urbana residents. I appreciate you taking the time to ask these questions.
Thanks for pointing that out, Jon. We have updated the story accordingly. However, many places do not recycle those types of plastics, and adding them to the bin would counterproductive to recycling. It’s best to check in with your local recycling facility to see what they recommend.
The beginning of the end of recycling was the switch to single stream collection. The mixing and compaction of multiple types of recyclables along with the unavoidable mix of non recyclables made, and makes, the separation into quality materials mills need to make the end products both difficult and expensive. When I was in the industry a single plastic sleeve found in an entire 20 ton load of reclyclable newspaper was cause for rejection if the entire load. Today the contamination rate can we well into double digit %’s. What was good for the collectors and municipalities is/was terrible for the end users. Fix that and the industry will recover quite nicely.
Great article and informative. I want help reduce waste and also help clean up the environment. I am hoping that the new administration will really push for change.
They should put a deposit on all bottles etc. like when I was a kid, we would pick the bottles up for the deposit on them , that was our movie money , I think that people would be more apt to return bottles etc. and if not someone would , you drive down some roads and streets , they are just littered with bottles and containers !
Thank you so much for writing this intelligent and well researched article!
i could be wrong but the article seems to be saying that Robots are the answer to the recycling problem? people are the problem. #1 Thy do not clean or separate the materials correctly. # 2 people charge more than they are worth. I am sure a the engineers can set up a fully automated recycling plant sensors can sort, double check then sort. This would solve the short and the long term problem. Robots do not need vacations, breaks, show up for work 24 hours. People do not use the recycling bens correctly and are part of the problem and not part of the solution. A large number of people do not have clue what should even go into the recycling bens. just using numbers but if it cost $700,000.00 for the recycling and the materials after being cleaned, sorted and packaged are sold for $90,000.00?? Society is paying a high price and not getting any benefit. Robots to the rescue.
Nope. The problem is the tiny resale market for the properly sorted items, not the issue of sortation. Businesses aren’t buying that much recycled materials, especially recycled plastics.
I’m sorry but I think you’re both wrong. The problem is the companies that are making and then pumping out these single use containers. They are the issue and they need to be stopped!
Most information I’ve seen in long time and really hope we can get that Plastic Monkey off our backs
It pains me to say this, but my son worked in SF restaurant kitchens prior to the pandemic, and watched the “3-bin” system implementation. The haulers came, took each bin, and dumped them in the same truck container. This happened every time he followed to watch. So everyone upstream thinks they’re doing the right thing, but this sample of 1 suggests it’s a charade. The problem is partly that perfection is enemy of good. Where is the research, and data, about how to make landfills clean, and which ones are. Ditto about incineration. We can strip lots of stuff from effluent, but where’s the incentive, if burning is deemed bad.
I am so glad to read this article. It’s very informative, and answers questions I’ve had re: recycling for months. I have a hard time understanding why more states will not initiate a ban on single use plastic bags … this is unconscionable! Please do what you can to put the pressure on stores and states and people to reduce the use of toxic plastics! as well as reduce the use of our world’s resources as a whole.
I’m an old poop that has been recycling for years. I even wash and reuse my plastics storage bags. I think we should go back to a bottle deposit on pop,beer,and wine bottles. No more convenient plastic water or drink bottles.My dad would buy a case of bottle beer in a cardboard box and return all the bottles for deposit.We should be way past plastic bags at the stores,I think that is just common sense. And what about all those darn disposable diapers that people throw out in the environment with the poo in them.WOW!!I have a home in Arizona and the plastic bags are blowing all over the cactus. Trash all over the place on 19 and 10. What kind of people just dump anything from mattresses to full trash bags of garbage on the roads? Why isn’t anyone bothering to clean it up?Just think if everyone just picked up one piece of trash a day what it would mean for the environment. I remember the milk coming by the milkman, in return bottles with little cardboard tops. Some of the old ways weren’t so bad. My parents wouldn’t allow even a used tissue to go out a car window.I remember the good old days. No locked doors,no worries about the kids playing after dark. I was taught to respect others,property, the land the wildlife,and laws of the land.I guess I’m just an old fart that recycles. Thanks to anyone who read my rantings. Have a environmentally positive life and enjoy the beauty that nature offers.
Every single thing that was said in Catherine’s letter was totally agreed by me. I think we are both from the ‘baby-boomer’ generation………growing up when our parents would bring back the soda or milk bottles for reuse. I sit at a stop-light today, looking at all the beer bottles, soda cans soda bottles out there. And have said the same as you……………if I could get 2 cents for every one of those cans or bottles for a deposit brought back, I’d be RICH! ………….but hang-on there. If kids or other adults would get the coins in returned containers from their own drinks, WE, taking our enjoyed rides would not even see those bottles and cans along the roadside!
Our moms washed our baby diapers. NONE were just thrown out to litter. I have picked up some, in woods, along our roadway, just littered that way!
Another fact of the litter. Right now, in winter, ever wrapper, plastic bag caught in the tree branches and more litter is showing. We need clean-up crews out there doing their duty NOW, before all the green leaves and poison ivy covers that litter up so that nothing is done in the summer months. Then next winter, suddenly, there it is again, maybe even doubled in amount. Some of these piles of litter along the roadways even need a bulldozer to do the duty!
Catherine, you’re saying the very thing………….no locked doors, no worries about kids out there after dark. Respect other’s property. Now one added thing from me…………..kids of ‘our’ days were NOT out there shooting other kids with guns. That kind of act back in ‘those’ days would have caused US a real whippin’ !!! Right?
Awesome article! It answers a lot of the questions I had about recycling and why it is so vitally important! Keep up the good work
We should develop a government initiative to provide incentives to companies who utilize biodegradable and hemp packaging. Let’s utilize this legalization progress of marijuana and utilize the plant for all of its beneficial properties, including replacing plastic, cotton, wood, etc. it is much more sustainable.
We need to do a lot more, everyone needs to get involved,
I think our governments love to push the consumers to recycle as long as the consumers pay for it. Every small bottle I buy I have to pay a nickel for a deposit fee but when I go to recycle it I only get 2 cent. And when I take a lot of them it never fails they always rip you off at these recycling centers. The government always comes up with these programs to get rid of your recyclables as long as the consumer pays for it. All these programs are just more tax money for the governments, you go to the market and have to pay a dime for every bag you get unless you have your own but then, guess what, you have to bag your own groceries. I think they could care less if you recycle or not they just want the tax money they get out of it.
Great article! Very grateful for the helpful tips on how to make recycling a daily practice.
Recycle is really crucial for environment.
me no like trash water
i honestly think we need to fix the polution in the U.S.A. are earth is dying and we act like its no big deal evrey day as i ride the bus to school i see trash evreywere or i see pepole throwing trash in lakes, on the street, on lawns and on state property in the city and i live in a small town and evreyday it feels like its getting smaller
To whom it may concern,
I’m a freshman college student researching the concept of recycling and all the positives and negatives that come with it. In my research, I came across one of your articles, titled “Recycling in the U.S. Is Broken. How Do We Fix It?” by your writer/journalist Ms. Renee Cho, and I’ve been wondering about the future of recycling from your perspective. I’d greatly appreciate a brief statement from her or someone in the Colombia Climate School department on the following question: There’s no question recycling is corrupt in not only America but the world. Put yourself in the shoes of someone like the President of the United States. As a person who cares about the environment, if you were in a position of high power, what rules, laws, or changes would you enforce to benefit not only our country’s environment but the world? And how would you implement recycling into the mix? I look forward to hearing back, and I would be eager to include whatever her viewpoint or answer is in my upcoming research paper. Thank you for your time.
Sadly, I had to dig for this article. So much emphasis is place on climate change and basically none on the dangers and disgust of what plastics produce in our environment. If the media would concentrate on this topic for just a segment here and there, we would all benefit. People aren’t recycling for many reasons, but as this eloquent article points out, the main reason is because the basic expectations are not made readily available to consumers. A majority of the population is ignorant of what, where, and how to recycle properly; and when a household separates trash from “recyclables,” there exists a blind trust that the rest is being handled. Where I live, we pay a mandatory recycle fee with our water bill, and it would be really nice to know that our efforts to recycle…and our paying for adequate services…are being met with due diligence. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the case.
The federal government needs to invest in realistic recycling programs and ban most plastics that are not recycleable.
I have done research and the problem is that oil companies realize that fossil fuels being used for energy will soon be a thing of the past.. They have heavily invested in the plastics business as a way to diversify and keep the demand for fossil fuel real . It takes fossil fuel (energy) to make each plastic bottle or container made or recycled.
The federal government needs to implement sustainable and profitable business plans for the plastics recycling industry . Other countries have done it and is proven to work.
Cities, towns and states also need to step up their efforts at recycling.
The US should be recycling its own trash. It’s time to force the greediocy within American business off the Chinese crutch before it completely destroys our nation.
The entirety of this whole big billfold/ big government/ big business bull$h!t was never anything more than a unsustainable delusion from the get go. A delusion which has progressively
The two party political sucks clogged up within the powers of American government are the ones responsible for the rot and ruin corporatism has brought upon us.
God forbid another world war breaks out because the US no longer has the manufacturing muscle or guts to go toe to toe with China and Russia anymore.
We can thank the big business greedsters selling out their own country in the name of profit maximization.
The US is sowing the seeds of its own destruction and the country lacks the wherewithal too see the bigger picture.
Both government and society alike have thoroughly abandoned all reality, hindsight, and common sense in the name of feeding their own addictions to dollars, denials, and delusions.
If society doesn’t wake up and instill common sense back into their government the rich will destroy America, just like they have wholesale ruin and misery upon every other civilization throughout the course of human history.
Those too stupid to learn from history are forever doomed to repeat it.
How many more times must the great wheel of retardation go around?
The country cannot keep sustaining this diseased style of business and governance.
So informative and its sad to see that china ended up not using much recyclable and ultimately lost its profitability. Rip China 2022
Is there anything I can do besides just recycle? I wanna help any and every way possible
Many of the items whether contaminated or not could be flushed or jet washed pior to heating even some of the incineratary items could be made into other materials proposed to being fully incinerated, moreover in my observations when demands for new facilities are generated much of the still useful leftover/outdated materials are thrown out, my choice would be to free up resources for the school age children or community to make use of recovery resource hub. Many stigmatized members all around us have talent to create but their label Has crushed many of their hopes for dreams…
Matthew Allen Kamstra 58072
Whenever I walk through my neighborhood on recycling day, I can see that 100% of my neighbors have included items that will “contaminate” the entire load. I’ve noticed everything from box fans to glass bottles to paper plates with food all over them, and a million other things.
I have no choice but to assume all of this goes straight to the landfill so I honestly don’t know why I should waste my time trying to do the right thing anymore.
This is the best, most comprehensive article I’ve ever read on recycling.
It presents the problem, then methods and solutions implemented by other countries. It should be must-read for everyone charged with waste disposal systems.
My Science Mrs. Gold told me alllll about recycling this article was truly insightful I really learned what it means to recycle and it is just completely absurd that this is happening in the United States. WE MUST MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND FIND ALTERNATIVES. Do we want future generations to live on trash piles? NO, so let’s do what it takes to make a DIFFERENCE in OUR communities, and BOOOOOMMMMM. As we say here at my school MAKE AN IMPACT.
The big problem here is touting collection of materials as “recycling.” We institute these programs in our cities and feel good about them. Then it’s not actually recycled. We’re fooling ourselves. Aluminum and paper being a fairly good exception. If there’s no profit to be made, into the landfill or shipped off to a poor nation to be incinerated or dumped in the ocean. Germany supposedly a nation to be emulated. It has been revealed to be a fraud, instead of following the money, follow the trash. The best thing one can do is try to avoid the plastic menace.
This is not from the article this is from something else According to idauas.com it states that “One of the biggest threats to animals and our planet as a whole is plastic consumption. Every year, we create nearly 300 million tons of plastic worldwide (a staggering 185 pounds of plastic per person), and 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the oceans.”
less oil to make products in glass and its 100 percent recyclable,makes me upset this country does not promote glass industry
Would it be possible for larger countries to recycle their own garbage instead of shipping it abroad. Maybe people would be more mindful and statistics concerning recycling would improve.
Education is badly needed in the US.
We should be using more bamboo products for fast food; silverware, containers, etc…
When and who will make corporations be environmentally responsible?
I am not sure it would work or not but I’ve often thought about repurposing the plastic and cans for a different reason. Since the US has so many small towns and villages during a sports event(they have them year round) they can institute prizes and events.
For instance, the cans/plastics can be reshaped into smaller statues for the losing team and larger statues for the winning team. Chains with medals or earrings, crowns, scepters for the school homecoming court. I figure you can also make cups, bags even coolers with the with shape of the school mascot both old and new. Or they can recreate shoes specifically for the school event that as you walk instead of a random light showing nothing but that you’re there you can put the school mascot.
I also the state flag can be repurposed with one side of the school mascot and the other with the flag. it can go into cups that were created with a recycled opening in the cup so it has both the mascot and the flag.
I do understand that most things can not be recovered because they are contaminated. Until scientist can create something that purifies them why not hire people to separate the items that comes in… I have an idea for sinks and entire bathrooms made out of recycling items.
But this may help even if it is a little small towns are often dismissed maybe if they are not ignored it could create jobs and help the country even if it is a little.
Just an Idea…
Why can’t the US start processing our own recyclables, rather than sending them halfway across the world? We are already too dependent on China and other countries for our raw materials. Recycling will allow us to cut down that dependence drastically.
This is a wonderful article and really puts things in perspective. We have to up our game as far as recycling goes. Some communities have community composting and wood chips for mulch. There are some good ideas if people will start being accountable for the things they use. I use compost worms and they are wonderful for gardening and recycling vegetable waste. Maybe a water pitcher instead of a plastic bottle of water, and soda isn’t healthy for me anyway. It’s a better mindset that we need in this country to be good stewards of the land and that we are all responsible for making recycling work.
One thing I have heard from several usually reliable resources is that glass is not recyclable,, it is only reusable. Do you know about anything about that?
My name is Balwinder Singh. I am doing plastic recycling in India.
Is there any opportunity to start a new plastic recycling plant in US. If yes then i would like to start a factory to recycle plastic bags, hdpe scrap, pp scrap etc.
I believe that people should be able to scrap out of landfills because that reduces waste and that helps recycle
we need to try to stop the recycling materials getting into the trash.
it is clear that we need to try to stop recyclable materials going into the trash.
stop sending are trash over seas and making us pay for not doing the the right thing and care of it home.
The biggest problem is disciplene. Many people for lack of sensitivity and lack of care for others or community take the easy way out and at the end it cost evryone more. The industry that created the single use items should be held responsible to recycle it.