The Recycling Scam is Collapsing Across America

I covered this story last year. The New York Times just glommed on to it. And, as usual, gets basic details about China's policy wrong. 

Here's what I noted last year.

California’s trash is going right back to landfills. 62% of exported materials used to goto China. But no more. California’s Department of Resources Recycling sent a letter cautioning that the “economics of recycling” had become “unfavorable” thus “challenging what recycling means to Californians.”

It also warned recycling facilities that, “public health and safety should be their number one priority”.

In Massachusetts, mountains of trash recycling are piling up and there’s talk that trucks may stop picking it up. In Pennsylvania, a "recycling crisis created by China" was blamed for a refusal to accept paper. In Seattle and Phoenix, recycling is going into landfills. Fees are going up in Portland. In Pasco, recycling was abandoned before its start. In a Kansas City plant, one out of four items is going into a landfill. In Sacramento, where all of California’s recycling rules are made, most recyclables no longer are.

Fort Worth’s recycling brought in nearly a million last year. Now, it’s expected to cost $1.6 million.

But the old gray lady does report the basic reality that recycling was a politically correct scam that's becoming unaffordable now. And cities are dumping trash in landfills or burning it.

Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. 

With fewer buyers, recycling companies are recouping their lost profits by charging cities more, in some cases four times what they charged last year.

Amid the soaring costs, cities and towns are making hard choices about whether to raise taxes, cut other municipal services or abandon an effort that took hold during the environmental movement of the 1970s.

Recycling had been one of the least lucrative parts of their business, trailing hauling and landfills. Analysts say many waste companies had historically viewed recycling as a “loss leader,” offering the service largely to win over a municipality’s garbage business.

That equation is starting to change. While there remains a viable market in the United States for scrap like soda bottles and cardboard, it is not large enough to soak up all of the plastics and paper that Americans try to recycle. The recycling companies say they cannot depend on selling used plastic and paper at prices that cover their processing costs, so they are asking municipalities to pay significantly more for their recycling services. 

Municipalities are turning on the companies. Or just getting out of the business of saving the planet from pizza boxes.

Over the last decade, Philadelphia went from having one of the lowest recycling rates among big cities to one of the best.

When China was buying cardboard and plastics, recycling made money for the city some years. But last year, Philadelphia was hit with an “outrageously high” price increase, a city spokeswoman said in a statement.

The city came up with what it says will be a temporary solution. It identified the neighborhoods with the most contamination in its recycling bins and started sending their material to an incinerator in nearby Chester, Pa. The rest still send their material to a recycling facility.

Recycling is turning into a potemkin village in which people are told to virtue signal with fake recycling.

Across Memphis, large commercial enterprises have had to stop recycling for now because of contamination problems. But the airport is keeping its recycling bins in place to preserve “the culture” of recycling among passengers and employees, a spokesman said.

“We want to ensure that we are able to have a seamless transition if and when single-stream recycling returns to the Memphis area,” the spokesman, Glen Thomas, said in an email.

Recycling is now officially a cargo cult.