Mandatory Recycling

Due to the American economy running primarily along free market lines and the fact that landfilling waste is a reasonably cheap and efficient means of disposal, proponents of mandatory recycling in the United States face considerable adversity. Ten years ago, the research firm Franklin Associates took a look into the issue and found the potential value of materials gathered from curbside recycling was significantly less than the costs associated like collection, transportation, and the sorting and processing of recyclables absorbed by municipalities.

The basic problem is simply that recycling is still more expensive that landfilling in most areas. This unfortunate reality, compounded with the popular belief that the “landfill crisis” of the 90s was an exaggeration, create an unfavorable situation for environmentalists, who had been hoping that recycling would have caught on more than it has.

Despite this lack of overwhelming enthusiasm, several cities have discovered ways to recycle economically. Different tactics have been implemented to cut costs such as less frequent curbside pickups and the automation of sorting and processing. They’ve also found other larger and more lucrative buyers for recyclables like developing countries with high demands for the materials that we otherwise discard. In addition, growing pubic awareness thanks in part to heavily increased efforts by green groups to educate the public about all the benefits of recycling have also helped a great deal. Many U.S. cities today are diverting more than 30% of their solid waste to recycling.

While to most Americans recycling is simply an environmentally conscious option, it is actually mandatory in some cities. These cities include San Diego, Pittsburgh and Seattle, to name a few. In 2006, Seattle passed its mandatory recycling law in an effort to combat the declining recycling rates. Since the new law went into effect, recyclables are prohibited from both residential as well as commercial garbage. All businesses are required to sort all paper, cardboard and yard waste. Households are expected to recycle all of the basic recyclables such as paper, aluminum, cardboard, plastic and glass.

If any of those businesses are caught with more than 10 recyclables in their garbage containers, they are initially issued warnings and eventually fines if they don’t comply with the policy. If household garbage cans are found to contain recyclables, they are simply left uncollected until the resident removes all of the recyclables to the appropriate recycling bin. Also, some cities such as Honolulu, HI and Gainesville, FL require businesses to recycle, while residential compliance is not expressly required.

In 2002, New York City ended its plastic and glass recycling programs because they were deemed to expensive and inefficient to continue. However, the rising costs of landfill disposal ended up costing all of the money that they had saved from doing away with the recycling programs. Following these events, the city decided to reinstate its plastic and glass recycling programs and committed to a 20-year long recycling contract with a private recycling firm. The new plan has been remarkably successful, and serves as a testament to how responsibly run recycling programs can actually improve the economy, while simultaneously preserving the environment.