U.S. Cities Scrap Recycling Programs Due to High Costs

In this July 5, 2016, file photo, cans and plastic bottles brought in for recycling are seen at a recycling center in Sacramento, California. (Rich Pedroncielli / AP)
Rich Pedroncielli / AP

Hundreds of U.S. towns and cities have scrapped their recycling programs because the costs to maintain them have skyrocketed.

Municipalities across the country have either eliminated their recycling programs, put strict limits on the type of material they accept, or agreed to raise their prices to try and make ends meet after China stopped buying some recyclable materials like used plastic and paper, the New York Times reported.

Some cities, like Philadelphia, are using incinerators to burn residents’ recycled material in the hopes that the material could be used for energy. But other cities have resorted to throwing its recyclables in the trash or suspending its recycling programs altogether.

Memphis still has recycling bins placed around the city, but not every item placed in the bin is recycled. Cans, bottles, and newspapers are sent to landfills instead of recycling facilities.

Officials in Deltona, Florida, decided to scrap the city’s recycling program in February after they realized their program was not cost-effective.

“We are in a crisis moment in the recycling movement right now,” Fiona Ma, who serves as the treasurer of California, told the Times.

America’s recycling crisis began after Chinese officials decided in January 2018 to restrict imported recyclable materials, including mixed paper and most plastic items.

Because fewer countries are buying recycled material, big recycling companies are trying to make up for profit losses by charging cities exorbitant rates to use their services.

The big recycling companies like Waste Management and Republic Services— both companies which double as landfill operators and trash collectors— have benefited financially from China’s restrictions.

Waste Management announced increased profits in 2018, and revenue for Republic Services increased four percent throughout 2018.

But as the big recycling firms continue to make money, the cities and towns that use their services are struggling to keep up with the price increases.

Deltona city officials say the recycling company they used required them to pay an extra $25,000 per month to keep using the company’s services, and there would be no guarantee the old paper and plastic would be turned into new material.

“We all did recycling because it was easy, but the reality is that not much was actually being recycled,” Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg said.

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