Given that recycling has numerous known environmental advantages and can lower carbon emissions, this makes some intuitive sense. Even the most ardent recyclers warn that this approach has apparent limitations when it comes to addressing climate change.Increasing recycling has many positive effects on the environment. However, we must also admit that recycling is not one of the top priorities.
Recycling is worthwhile. It lessens the exploitation of virgin resources and is among the simpler climate-friendly actions that people can do. When using secondary or renewable resources, less carbon is released into the atmosphere than when using primary resources. Recycling aluminium uses roughly 95% less energy to forge than raw aluminium, notwithstanding the carbon involved in the collection, shipping, and processing.
Although it’s frequently noted that a well-run or professionally managed recycling programme can be less expensive than other methods of garbage disposal, many towns historically have come to the conclusion that recycling is more expensive than other alternatives.
Why is recycling expensive?
Programs for recycling can occasionally be hampered by the systems they employ. Multi-stream recycling, where items are divided before collection, necessitates more consumer effort but is less expensive and easier to sort. However, single-stream recycling is still widely used in many cities, where all recyclables are put in one bin for pickup. Although this is handy for consumers, it frequently leads to contamination, and it is more expensive because materials need to be sorted by both a machine and a human hand.
These considerations have led to higher recycling prices as well as reduced recycling rates, as many jurisdictions have turned to landfills or incineration for scrap items that are unusable or simply too precious to be processed
Right now, recycling plastic is not economically viable
The global restructuring of the scrap market has proven disastrous, especially for plastic recycling. Recycling plastic currently costs more than producing fresh plastic due to low scrap values, high recycling expenses, and low oil prices. Even the highly recyclable #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE) plastics may deteriorate in quality over time, with processing limits of just two to three cycles before they are no longer useable. Plastic is therefore intrinsically difficult for the recycling sector.
However, as consumer product makers move away from virgin materials as part of their sustainability initiatives, there is increased demand for recycled plastic. The price of scrap could be positively impacted by this new disposal option, which would make recycling plastic more affordable in the long run. The truth is that even products made of recycled plastic will eventually be disposed away in landfills or burned in incinerators.
Another troublesome material is paper. It can typically only be recycled six times before it can no longer be utilised in paper goods since each recycling shortens the fibres and lowers the quality. These thin fibres are frequently made into toilet paper or egg cartons, which exit the recycling process and end up in the trash stream. Recycling paper is cost-effective since it requires a lot less energy than producing paper goods from virgin paper, which can often be simpler and less expensive.
Recycling glass and metal is definitely worthwhile
Recycling is economical for several other materials. One of them is aluminium, which can be recycled endlessly without losing any quality. Recycled aluminium is produced using approximately 95% less energy than virgin aluminium. There is a huge and expanding market for aluminium, one of the most recyclable commodities in the world.
Additionally, steel is completely recyclable, and even low-quality scrap may be treated to create high-quality steel. Simple and up to 74% more energy-efficient than making new steel, sorting and recycling is a process. Steel recycling is exceptionally cost-effective since demand for it far outweighs supply, making it a highly desirable material.
Glass is also eternally recyclable without sacrificing quality and is simpler to recycle than new glass, albeit the energy savings are not as great as with metals. Even if manufacturers are interested in employing recycled glass, the national average for glass recycling in the US is still low, at roughly 33%, despite the fact that glass is highly recycled in Europe.
Overall, there is an increase in demand for high-quality recyclable materials. This indicates that recycling costs will probably decrease when new technologies and infrastructure are created, making it more practical to recycle items like paper, plastic, and other waste in the future.
Is recycling worth it?
Recycling is preferable than landfilling or incinerating materials, which produce greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Recycling minimises demand for natural resources, dependency on fossil fuels, and extraction impacts.
Recycling may not be financially cost-effective, but it has other benefits. Recycling is not the solution to all of our trash problems and ranks below reduce and reuse in the waste hierarchy because many materials have a limited lifespan and it uses a lot of energy and water. Redesigning, reducing, and reusing are increasingly crucial from a sustainability perspective.
To manage waste, generate as little as feasible to begin with. This is green and cheap. Recycling is worth it in the long term, even if it costs more than trashing waste.