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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Treehugger Tuesday

From the website Earther:

Recycling Is Broken
Maddie Stone
March 11, 2019

This week, we are writing about waste and trash, examining the junk that dominates our lives, and digging through garbage for treasure.

In Philadelphia, people like to recycle. Together, all 1.6 million of us generate about 400 tons of recyclable material each day. But since last fall, roughly half of the bottles and cans my neighbors and I have placed dutifully curbside in our blue bins every week haven’t made their way to a sorting facility. They’ve gone to one of two waste-to-energy incinerators, where they’re being burned alongside garbage.

The situation, which everyone from local residents to the company operating the trash-burning power plants seems unhappy about, is a microcosm of a crisis that’s been rippling across the country ever since China, once the single-largest buyer for U.S. recyclables, banned the import of two dozen types of “foreign waste” and imposed strict quality standards on the recyclables it’ll accept. Nationwide, municipalities are facing higher costs and being forced to find stopgap solutions, from incinerators to landfills, for recyclables that have nowhere else to go.

Meanwhile, the recycling industry—which operates with next to no federal guidance despite processing a quarter of America’s waste—is in an existential struggle to chart a new path forward for itself.

“We’re approaching a point of reckoning that we have had not to debate in the US for a long time, in terms of how we deal with our municipal solid waste and consumer recyclables,” Kristina Costa, a senior fellow focused on climate change and energy policy at the Center for American Progress, told me. “If as a public policy goal we want to continue encouraging recycling, the time is basically now to have a really serious conversation about what policy changes... need to be put in place.”

Most of us think of recycling as a service our city provides, but in reality it’s a business. There are no national laws governing the industry, which is frequently financed by municipalities. Many cities, like Philly, work with private contractors to collect recyclables and get them sorted and cleaned at material recovery facilities. From there, the paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and aluminum are sold as commodities to various manufacturers.

Read the entire article here.

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