I learned a few days ago that the county I reside in has no plans to renew its curbside recycling contract when it expires next fall. Beginning in October of 2024, there will be no more curbside recycling in my local area. It’s the same old story: the county is losing money on the deal. County commissioners are no longer willing to let that happen.
For the next nine months, local residents will recycle plastic, glass, and paper by tossing select items into their curbside bins. Some will probably realize that most of the materials are headed for the landfill anyway. Others will assume everything they put in their bins will be recycled.
Recycling Is a County Service
I learned of curbside recycling’s demise in a news story published on a local TV station’s website. The station quoted a representative from a neighboring county who isn’t in favor of the decision. He explained that losing money on recycling shouldn’t be an issue. After all, recycling is a county service that costs money.
His point is valid, to a degree. The county doesn’t make any money on the sheriff’s department. Yet police protection is important enough to pay for. Therein lies the rub. Like their counterparts in so many other communities across the country, our county commissioners don’t see the value in continually spending money to recycle post-consumer materials.
I can’t disagree. The county benefits very little from curbside recycling. Any benefits local residents do derive are more than offset by the fact that inefficiencies in curbside recycling lead to most recycled materials being tossed in the landfill anyway. Until we solve the problems that make curbside recycling so inefficient, its benefits are far outweighed by its costs. It’s just not worth it.
Industrial Recycling Is Different
As I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but start comparing post-consumer curbside recycling against industrial recycling. I thought of a Tennessee industrial plastic recycler known as Seraphim Plastics, a company I’ve written about before. I was reminded that industrial recycling is different.
Seraphim Plastics purchases and recycles a variety of post-industrial plastics in multiple states. They will pick up a load of plastic scrap from a customer, haul it back to their processing facility, and send it through a series of grinders and magnets. What comes out the other end is a material they can package and sell to manufacturers. The material is called regrind.
There is value in recycling to Seraphim Plastics. That value is profit. As long as there is money to be made by recycling plastic palace, totes, cutoffs, and purge, Seraphim will keep doing it. And they won’t be the only ones. Dozens of companies all around the country do the same thing.
Efficiency and Cost Containment
The two differences between what Seraphim Plastics does and what my county has been trying to do for more than a decade are efficiency and cost containment. Seraphim Plastics’s process is efficient; my county’s process is not. Seraphim Plastics can contain its costs enough to make a profit. My county spends way too much money to collect materials and send them to the landfill.
I’m not opposed to curbside recycling in principle. I am opposed to spending more money on it than we should. That being the case, I’m glad county commissioners decided to forgo renewing the recycling contract next year. Until the inefficiencies of curbside recycling are fixed and costs are controlled, we don’t derive enough benefit from keeping it going. Cutting the program is the right thing to do.