Recycling profits dwindling

Published 10:00 am Thursday, August 8, 2019

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We’re trashy. Really trashy.

But to make up for all of the throw-away things we use on a daily basis, we recycle. We love to recycle. It makes us feel good.

Or at least we think we recycle.

County commissioners got the bad news last month in a presentation titled “Recycling is broken” by Tony Krasienko of Republic Services. Republic is in the garbage business, and the recycling business.

The problem is that the profits from recycling just aren’t there. In some cases, the company is paying others to take recyclables instead of selling them to those same companies.

He put the blame on China, which is probably right. The country once imported many of our recyclables – but put in a new rule about the cleanliness of the items to be recycled. The new rule is all but impossible to meet – especially if you’re in the business of making a profit, which Republic and all other businesses are.

He gave Davie County commissioners an option of sharing in the costs of recycling, even though Republic and the county are in a contract that doesn’t expire until 2023. The county commissioners would be best to leave that contract as is, there’s little benefit to taxpayers to change now. And if recycling was profitable two years ago and the bottom has fallen off the market, who knows what the situation will be in 2023? It may be in the county’s favor. It may be in Republic’s favor. Who knows? It will be a hard pill to swallow in 2023, because as I said earlier, we love to recycle. Whether we’re willing to pay more for that recycling is another question.

The problem really isn’t with contracts or companies or county commissioners, it’s on us.

We’re trashy.

We use disposable everything. We’ve been so good at what we thought was recycling that we’ve forgotten how to produce less waste. And we’ve gotten into – myself included – of what Krasienko calls “wishful recycling.”

Hey, that’s recyclable. Throw it in the recycling container, which Republic kindly provides for each household. But hold on.

If you put recyclables into a bag, and then put that bag into the recycling container, it ends up as trash. A little mayo left in the bottom of the jar? It’s trash. Styrofoam, recyclable, but not here. It sticks to machinery that separates the recyclables. Plastic grocery bags create the same problem. Glass is recycled, but nobody wants to buy it. They have to pay people to take it. Other items may be recyclable, but only when separated. Paying someone to separate materials takes out profits. And items are only recyclable so many times. Take the newsprint this newspaper is printed on, for example. It’s made from recycled paper. But it’s probably no good to be recycled into more paper. Compost maybe. But paper, no. Have you noticed how plastic drink bottles have gotten thinner and thinner? Good for the drink manfacturers, but bad for the recyclers. It takes too many to reach the same about of poundage to be profitable.

I’m not bashing Republic here, although we’ve received more than one complaint that the same truck that picks up trash occasionally picks up recyclables, as well.

It seems that nowadays, recycling doesn’t pay. And we know what happens when something isn’t profitable. As Todd Snider put it, if peace paid we’d have it made by now.

– Mike Barnhardt