Navigating the Crossroads of Recycling

Navigating the Crossroads of Recycling

Last week for Earth Day, I took part in 27 media interviews reaching 25 local television and radio markets as well as two national news feeds. I took to the airwaves to talk about a timely issue that is of incredible importance to our industry: the cost of recycling. It is evident that we have reached a crossroads in recycling, where the rising costs to our industry of providing this service must be balanced with our goal of building on the progress our industry has made to better our environment through effective recycling programs.

In my discussions with reporters from across the country, it was amazing to me to hear just how surprised so many of them were about the true cost of recycling. Too many Americans think that recycling is free and are under-informed about their role in making recycling both ecologically and economically sound, and our outreach and messages on the true cost of recycling and recycling tips are helping us advance this important dialogue. I also had the chance to provide the keynote address at the Environmental Show of the South in Tennessee on Earth Day, and I received strong, positive feedback about our view and work to address the cost of recycling.

We know that recycling is a commodity business where recyclables are sold to be reprocessed into new products that run the gamut of materials from roadways to bottles and cans and even into fiberglass and apparel. However, as we have experienced for some time now, commodity prices for recyclables have fallen so far, that it is tough to cover the cost of the capital and operating expense required to pay for the process. We believe that with greater public understanding of the true cost of recycling in their communities and how they can play a role in helping address the risks to recycling programs, that industry, local governments and our customers will all benefit .

In a major development that helps address a key aspect of the cost of recycling, NWRA and SWANA announced comprehensive new guidelines designed to improve protocols and standards for contracting practices for municipal recycling programs. The guidelines are a powerful collaborative tool for public agencies and private industry for improving the effectiveness of local residential recycling programs. These joint standards help municipalities and private industry adjust to the evolving nature of the residential recycling stream and dramatic price fluctuations in global commodities markets. This initiative demonstrates NWRA’s commitment and leadership in providing innovative solutions to complex problems.

While the question of who pays for recycling remains an important discussion, how we recycle and how we keep the wrong things out of our bins is another struggle that contributes to this crossroads. With curbside recycling now available to 60 to 70 percent of the population, consumers need to know their role in preserving and growing their recycling programs by learning how to recycle correctly. We are helping to raise awareness for consumers about putting the right things in their curbside bins. During my interviews, I helped inform viewers and listeners that placing wrong items in the recycling bin makes it more difficult and costly to recycle and could cause contamination of the process.

Many well-intentioned consumers mistakenly contaminate the recycling stream by throwing things like light bulbs, batteries, garden-hoses and plastic grocery bags in their bins. We encourage our members and partners to help demystify this process and we want to encourage the public to visit and follow @BeginWithTheBin on social media to learn about the right way to recycle.

At NWRA, we always want to hear from you. How are these economic trends impacting your business? In what ways are you addressing the challenges of balancing the demand for recycling with rising costs? How can NWRA best continue to serve as your champion on this and so many other critical issues? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter using @WasteRecycling or @Beginwiththebin

I also hope you can join our upcoming webinar entitled: The Costs of Recycling on Thursday, May 14, 2015 at 2:00 PM ET | 11:00 AM PT. Click here to register for this webinar. Further, click here to see one of my Earth Day interviews on this topic.

Sharon Kneiss is president and CEO of the National Waste & Recycling Association.

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