March 2, 2024

America’s recycling business is in big trouble. The ecological and economic effects on cities are threatening.

China used to take our recyclables, but essentially closed its doors in 2018 because the paper and plastics we shipped were too heavily contaminated with garbage. Unsurprisingly, the United States leads the world in per capita production of municipal waste and the decade-long volume of single-use plastics has soared since the pandemic began.

The closure of the Chinese market has fueled the American recycling business – too much supply, too little demand. For example, in Onondaga County, New York, where the collection, processing and marketing of recyclable materials has long paid off and has occasionally even made money, the county’s residents will have more than $ 2 million to cover recycling costs in 2020 issued. Dozens of recycling programs have been closed across the country, and Americans are piling more trash than ever in incinerators and landfills. This corresponds to the vomiting of our collective hands, a trend that disproportionately affects marginalized neighborhoods and color communities.

But there is a way to clear this mess up.

Some New York state lawmakers, Long Island Democrats, Senator Todd Kaminsky and Rep. Steve Englebright, have drafted a recycling bill that, if it came into effect, would set a flashy precedent for other states.

The bill aims to put money back into New York’s recycling programs with the prospect of improving garbage sorting technology and creating environmentally friendly jobs. It also provides incentives for brand owners to use more recyclable materials and reduce their overall packaging.

For anyone interested in preventing our communities from opening more sites to burn or bury trash and bleeding, for example, to struggle with non-recyclable plastic food containers, milk jugs and yogurt cups – cash that goes towards building new libraries, Legislation is a potential enabler – hospitals or parks could be used.

And it wouldn’t cost New York taxpayers a penny. Quite the opposite: it would return millions of tax dollars now being paid to municipal coffers for recycling.

Instead, the law would push product manufacturers, down to the smallest, to take on the recycling tab. The prospective legislation, which has been in the works for more than a year, not only has a reasonable chance of getting officials and others I spoke to in Albany – it has a good chance of gaining support from some of these companies and theirs too Get lobbyists.

Why? For certain companies, it’s the right thing and the brand. Nespresso, the upscale coffee maker, recently reached out to Sims Recycling, whose facilities process most of the recyclables in New York City. He volunteers to pay for the equipment Sims would need to extract aluminum from his coffee pods, and arranges to do so with the New York Department of Hygiene for the pods to be included in the roadside pickup.

For others in the packaging industry, including some who previously opposed such laws, but are now seeing states like California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, and Oregon considering similar bills, stand behind the idea – and therefore a place take at the table to clear the details – is better than being let out of the process and holding the bag. The Ameripen lobby group, for example, recently suggested being open to the idea.

In other words, we’re talking about more than an obscure government recycling bill. We’re talking about the glimmer of a cultural reset, a shift in the way Americans view corporate and individual responsibility.

The New York bill would implement a concept known as expanded producer responsibility, an incredibly infallible recycling term. In essence, EPR forces manufacturers, not consumers, to pay for the final waste their products produce.

Depending on the environmental impact of their packaging materials, the EPR requires manufacturers to apply different amounts with which the municipalities can then offset the recycling costs. At the moment, companies are doing pretty much what they want when it comes to packaging a recyclable cosmetic bottle, such as knocking a metalized plastic label on a recyclable cosmetic bottle and making it non-recyclable, or swapping plastic foam for egg boxes made of cellulose paper – which Taxpayers have to absorb higher disposal costs.

“We’re reactive,” said Bridget Anderson, assistant commissioner for recycling and sustainability for the New York Department of Hygiene. EPR, she said, puts manufacturers, not consumers and municipalities, accountable, and rewards companies who are greener by reducing the fees they would otherwise have to pay to dispose of their packaging.

If you think companies are only passing these fees on to consumers and seizing the opportunity to make a profit, the law can be written to prevent price cuts, Senator Kaminsky says. In parts of Europe and Canada, extended manufacturer responsibility laws have been in place for years. A study shows that the average increase in consumer prices from an EPR program is $ 0.0056 per item purchased. Depending on how they’re structured, these laws are not without critics – environmentalists are concerned they don’t go far enough; A Maine-based supermarket chain was concerned about the additional costs of their branded products – but they have no noticeable impact on consumer prices, the senator explained, as recycling costs are spread across different industries.

The strategy is not new in New York. The state has passed EPR laws targeting electronics, paint scraps, thermometers, and batteries. and a New York law applies to refrigerators and air conditioners. But all of these items make up little more than one percent of the city’s municipal waste stream.

Anderson estimates that the future New York State bill focusing on paper, plastic, metal and glass – anything to do with packaging – would account for “almost half of our total waste.” It’s hard to convert that into dollars, but the cost of recycling in New York City is $ 150 million a year, she told me. The proposed extended producer responsibility would pay “a large portion of that bill,” she said.

“An EPR law for paper and packaging would be completely transformative,” emphasizes Eric A. Goldstein. As senior counsel for the Defense Council on Natural Resources, he led a campaign to remove lead from gasoline years ago.

Surveys show that Americans like to recycle but are frustrated. Not sure what is recyclable (“wish-cycling” is the environmentalist’s art form) and compliance often depends on whips, not carrots: fines for using the wrong container, fees for not using reusable bags and expired debris for unreturned bottles. Sticks work, but can fuel resentment about the nanny state and prevent participation when consumers fear the system is not reliable and responsibilities are not shared fairly.

One advantage of EPR is that it is not a criminal offense. At the same time, an intensive public discussion is encouraged about the larger CO2 emissions from packaging materials, since the manufacturers’ payments are based on their environmental impact.

In addition, funds from any of these programs can be used to make capital investments in improving garbage disposal technology so that recycling facilities can reclaim more materials from the waste stream – materials that can then be fed back into the local economy. Tom Outerbridge, general manager at Sims, gave an example: “Municipal programs across the state and the US now have problems with glass recycling because it is of low value and has high processing costs,” he said. “We could upgrade this jar to put it back in new bottles, or in high-tech, low-carbon concrete to build greener buildings. However, to achieve this requires investments that no one is currently ready to make. “

The proposed legislation would be “a win-win for consumers and the environment,” said Andrew Radin, director of recycling and waste reduction for Onondaga County.

The question now is whether Governor Andrew M. Cuomo will come on board. He has drawn up a climate protection agenda for renewable energies. Last week he hosted a program at New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University that focused on improving the quality and marketability of waste glass. But he didn’t mention EPR in his last budget.

The bill is expected to move forward this spring. New York can set an example for the nation. Environmentalists keep their fingers crossed.