538 Breaks Down Modern Recycling… and It’s Frustrating

A 538.com analysis of modern recycling trends pits ease-of-use against best outcomes, a frustrating quandary.

The analytically-driven website recently published an analysis of contemporary issues with publicly operated recycling programs. Their analysis: an age of “easy” recycling may be at an end.

From the article:

Americans love convenient recycling, but convenient recycling increasingly does not love us. Waste experts call the system of dumping all the recyclables into one bin “single-stream recycling.” It’s popular. But the cost-benefit math of it has changed. The benefit — more participation and thus more material put forward for recycling — may have been overtaken by the cost — unrecyclable recyclables. On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer.

MACo recently featured a workshop on modern recycling challenges at its winter conference, where similar issues were discussed.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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