Recycling is generally an unprofitable business in the US. For this read I am focusing on what we consider a broken system and specifically dissecting California’s current climate because, generally speaking, each state along with each municipality, offers very different services.
The Fast Company reports “Each year, by one estimate, Americans throw out around 22 million tons of products that could have been recycled.” Shockingly, China was our largest consumer of recycling and waste but denied accepting a large portion of materials moving into the 2019 new year. They claimed this was due to the ever-growing production of their own scrap materials coupled with less demand. Shortly thereafter, California had closures of 284 RePlanet centers. RePlant was considered the largest grouping of recycling plants within the state but could no longer survive as a viable business. To create new products from virgin resources became the chosen low-cost and high-return option in product manufacturing. Market prices decreased for recycled aluminum and PET plastic, while at the same time business costs increased making it no longer economical to be a recycling company in California.
Not all materials are created equal. There is some feedstock with higher efficiency within the recycling stream than others. Aluminum or steel can be easily remade into the same or similar products since there is generally very little contamination and have a higher probability of being recycled properly (ex. 12oz drink can). Other materials, like plastic, have to be chopped up, mixed, melted into other plastics, and are made into other lower quality products as its additional lifecycle. This bleak outlook is why many people consider the situation related to landfills, recycling, and waste management across the US as a serious crisis. This was the reason for developing DEW MIGHTY’s four pillars: REFUSE, REUSE, REDUCE, & AT LAST RESORT RECYCLE.
Some good news- there is a company working on breakthrough changes in this broken system. Terracycle was founded in 2003 and has been focused on creating a new infrastructure around recycling with the goal to design a solution that is not only profitable but also include materials that may not have been considered in traditional programs. There is much debate over mixed material goods and anyone's ability to truly recycle these products so hopefully the Loop is transparent on this topic and manufacturers become more accountable to what they are producing. They are also rolling out a refillable option, Loop, that partners with large brands to have products delivered to your doorstep that have containers returned, recleaned, and refilled. To learn a bit more on their plans take a look at the links provided.
Since so much of what we consume is still largely going into the landfill currently, regardless if products are thrown into the recycling bin, there are needs for collective action. Alert your local legislation and read about the SB54/AB1080 (The California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Prevention Act!) that can be signed on the Surfrider website as well as an extensive list of current legislation on the Californians Against Waste website. The bill SB54/AB1080 did not pass in 2019 and we hope it will be re-evaluated this year.
This might be a broken system currently but if we dream, believe, and take action in the ability to improve there is a chance to reinvent recycling.
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