Recycling is suffering from system failure; it's time for a system redesign

We are sacrificing our oceans and filling our landfills in the name of convenience. It's time to pay the bill.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “The U.S. recycling industry is breaking down.” Bob Tita writes:

"Prices for scrap paper and plastic have collapsed, leading local officials across the country to charge residents more to collect recyclables and send some to landfills. Used newspapers, cardboard boxes and plastic bottles are piling up at plants that can’t make a profit processing them for export or domestic markets."

It all worked for a while as much of the recycling was shipped to China, where cheap labor made it possible to separate the pizza-covered boxes from the clean cardboard, but the government won’t let them do that anymore. So mixed paper that used to sell for $150 a ton now sells for $5. So instead, much of it is going to landfill.

"Stuff is definitely getting thrown away in landfills. Nobody is happy about it,” said Dylan de Thomas, vice president of industry collaboration for the Recycling Partnership in Virginia. “There are very few landfill owners that don’t operate recycling facilities, too. They’d much rather be paid for those materials.”

Essentially, we have a system failure. All of which brings us back to the argument about recycling: who is it for? Who benefits? What do we do now?...more