I touched on only only a fraction of the issues regarding recycling in my recent column on that topic.
The market for recycled materials is down, which is putting private recyclers under financial strain. Cheap oil makes it more profitable to make new plastic than to recycle old. People read less news on paper. China, which for years bought everything we threw away so they could it turn into stuff we would throw away again, is buying less.
Efforts to reduce the amount of stuff that has to be recycled have had perverse effects. Take Germany for example. That nation doesn’t have a lot of land and does has lots of thrifty and energetic people, and it has long been a global innovator when it comes to recycling. Springfield has one blue pin; most German cities you get green, blue, yellow, brown and gray bins. As far as I know, no city in the U.S. can match the town of Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, which has a recycling center to which citizens can bring dead animals, including dead pet dogs, whose cuddly bits get rendered into lip balm.
The recent emphasis there has been to shift some of the costs of recycling into the prices of products to encourage more use of less. Manufacturers and retailers have to pay to place a "Green Dot" on products: the more packaging they use, the higher the fee. (Many U.S. manufacturers are using less packaging too, because it means lower shipping costs.) The result has been products with less paper, glass and metal in them. But less recyclable material in the recycling bin means that each bin pick-up has less value to the recycler.Also, it hardly helps to require manufacturers to reduce the amount of packaging they use to display goods if people quit buying stuff in stores. In considering my recent piece about the closure of the drop-out recycling center in Springfield, I was interested to learn that the biggest item dropped off was spent cardboard boxes, presumably the packages in which were shipped packages of goods bought via the web. With the data-crunching capacity at Amazon’s disposal it wouldn’t seem to be hard to levy a recycling surcharge for every box they send out, with the proceeds going to the municipality to which it was delivered to cover the costs – landfill, local recyclers, incineration — of getting rid of it.