Recycling Follies - It Just Doesn't Pay

While the aims of recycling appear to be beneficial to the environment and the bottom line, decades of experience show that it is more a feel-good measure than an actual boon to the environment and has little if any return on investment.

Materials like glass, plastic, paper, and cardboard have very little real value in regards to recycling. They take up space, aren't in demand (except that demand generated by subsidies or 'feel-good' companies that have the money to waste on them). The only recycled materials that have been successful in generating high demand along with financial motivation are metals. The two most recycled materials in the world are steel (including iron) and aluminum, and it's been that way for over 100 years.

What I find amazing is that tipping fees for garbage - what landfills or trash-to-energy plants charge for taking your trash - are about $150 to $180 a ton (at least here in New Hampshire) but tipping fees for recyclables can run two to three times that much! So right out of the gate recycling costs more. If the recycler permits single stream recycling which means all of the recyclables do not need to be separated into metals, glass, plastics, and paper/cardboard, the processing cost is higher.

What's worse is that if the recycler cannot sell the paper, cardboard, or plastic it will likely end up in a landfill or trash-to-energy incinerator so it's likely that yet another tipping fee will have to be paid.

So between higher tipping fees, separation costs, and possible disposal fee if the recycled material cannot be sold, plus the added energy costs to haul all this stuff around, recycling seems to be a loser to me. Better to focus on recycling the metals because there's always buyers for it and we know it will be reused, unlike the other recyclables.

But if it makes you feel better to recycle, don't let me stop you. Just understand that it's really just a feel-good gesture and it really doesn't help the environment all that much.