Recycling is good, right? It protects the environment and saves money, so what could be wrong with that? Well, given that it doesn’t actually do either of those things particularly well, we have a problem. The Washington Post’s Aaron Davis reports, “Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise. The District, Baltimore and many counties in between are contributing millions annually to prop up one of the nation’s busiest facilities here in Elkridge, Md. — but it is still losing money. In fact, almost every facility like it in the country is running in the red. And Waste Management and other recyclers say that more than 2,000 municipalities are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around. In short, the business of American recycling has stalled. And industry leaders warn that the situation is worse than it appears.” The reasons are manifold. The economics of supply and demand dictate much of it. Falling prices for oil mean things like plastic are cheaper to produce, while China is demanding less of America’s waste. Another factor is the overzealousness of environmentalists. (Surprise!) As more people recycle more things to save the planet, recycle bins get bigger and people use less discretion in what they toss in there. As a result, when the recycling company gets the waste, it’s more costly to sort through it for usable items. This isn’t to say the practice should stop, but it is to say it’s not a panacea. Nor is it free.
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