Decatur takes great pride in its trash and recycling programs. In the city’s recent Citizen Survey, residents gave both Garbage Collecting and Recycling a 91% positive rating.
That’s good because recently, recycling has gotten more expensive for residents. The city is now paying almost $13 more a ton (from $76 to $89) for recycling because demand for recycled materials is way down.
As Asst. City Manager David Junger wrote at the Sept. 2nd commission meeting that “post-consumer recyclable commodity prices have dropped significantly due to depressed manufacturing and housing industries, unstable market conditions, and changes to international recyclable commodity markets, especially in Asia.” Junger goes on to note that “the value of single-stream, post consumer recyclable materials have settled at a price which is producing marginal revenue.”
But as we’ve discussed over the years, recycling is never as easy or as net-positive for the planet as we often want/hope it to be. For example: In past discussions we’ve learned that you shouldn’t leave your open recycling out in the rain, because wet paper, cardboard and chipboard can’t be recycled if it’s soaked.
Now throw this recent observation into the mix.
The Atlantic reports that single-stream recycling – throwing everything in one bin – “is, ultimately, more expensive than sorting things before they got to the dump, and MRFs can’t separate recyclables quite as well as a system that never mixes them together to begin with.”
This is apparently especially an issue with glass. Quoting the Container Recycling Institute from the post…
Glass is the material most affected by the amount of breakage in each type of collection system. In single-stream programs, it is virtually impossible to prevent glass from breaking as it goes to the curb, is dumped in the truck, gets compacted, gets dumped on the tipping floor of the MRF, is repeatedly driven over by forklifts, and is dumped on conveyor belts to be processed by the MRF.
As such, if Decatur residents are really concerned about the environment, shouldn’t we look into going back in time a bit and perhaps separating out our glass (at a minimum) with the end goal of making sure more of the items thrown into recycling are actually recycled? Of course the benefit of single-stream is that its ease of use encourages more people to participate. But here in Decatur, we already have other mechanisms in place – read: pay-as-you-throw – to encourage continued recycling, so why not be as efficient as possible?
Photo courtesy of Gwyneth