Is Recycling 'Worth It'? Let's Set the Record Straight

Is Recycling ‘Worth It’? Let’s Set the Record Straight

  • Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part article written by Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland.

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Have you ever wondered whether recycling is “worth it” or perhaps heard someone say that they think that recycling is not viable, or that cities pay more money for recycling programs than they would to just landfill everything? Recently, there have been articles that devalue recycling published in national press by recycling industry opponents.

Let’s set the record straight.

Trash Talk: Where Does Kane County Garbage Go?

Did you know that Kane County hasn’t had a landfill since Settler’s Hill in Geneva was closed in December 2006? Your garbage now goes to one of several transfer stations and then ultimately to one of six landfills in the  neighboring counties of Winnebago, Ogle, Lee, DeKalb and Livingston. Transporting waste to far-off dumps represents a substantial cost to waste haulers and create emissions associated with the transport.

Where Does Kane County Recycling Go?

The recycling you put at the curb is also consolidated at transfer stations and then trucked to recycling facilities called Material Recovery Facilities throughout the region.

The recycling you put at the curb is also consolidated at transfer stations and then trucked to recycling facilities called Material Recovery Facilities throughout the region. From there it is shipped in bales to various re-manufacturers, who utilize recycled material in significant percentages as feed stock for their products.

This National Recycling Coalition article responds to recent attacks on the value of recycling. Here’s a quick quote from the article:

“Here in the U.S., steelmakers rely on iron and steel scrap — processed from items as diverse as automobiles, household appliances demolished bridges and old machinery — to make roughly two-thirds of the steel produced in the country every year.”

Is Recycling ‘Worth It’?

carton recycling campaign 2A fallacy that I hear every now and then is: “It all just gets thrown in the landfill anyway, so what’s the point of recycling?” That may have been the case many years ago in certain areas of the country but is an anomaly these days. Once the haulers have collected the recycling material at the curb in a separate truck and delivered it to an MRF for sorting, then the only logical and economically intelligent thing to do is to sell those commodities on the market for revenue.

What about the cost of hauling and sorting all of that material? The hauling costs vary with distance, and for the most part, many MRFs are closer to Kane County than are the landfills. Additionally, the costs associated with the sorting of recycling are far less (at about $10/ton) than for the tipping fee at a landfill (about $17/ton).

Billions in Recycling Profits

Even though recycling commodity markets are at a historic low, there is still huge value in recycled metals, glass, paper and plastics. Resource Recycling recently reported on recycling revenues of three of the largest national waste and recycling haulers (one of which is Waste Management), and while it is down significantly from last year, recycling still accounts for much of their revenue.

Together, the three companies’ recycling businesses brought in $1.19 billion in the first three quarters of 2015, down from the $1.45 billion for the same time frame in 2014. Recycling markets tend to fluctuate over time, so it’s a pretty good bet revenues will go up again.

More Economic Benefits of Recycling

Christmas Holiday Lights Recycling 1Moreover, the recycling industry provides an estimated 471,587 direct and indirect jobs, and is responsible for at least $106 billion in annual economic activity in the U.S. It saves our “waste” from being wasted and therefore conserves precious and limited resources.

Virtually everyone agrees that recycling is a “worthy” effort. It’s the right thing to do for the environment, it helps preserve precious natural resources. Ultimately, it’s one of the efforts that will prevent us from being buried under mountains of our own waste products.

But fewer people, perhaps, realize that recycling also is “worth it” from an economic standpoint —building revenue, producing jobs and creating value to our local, regional and national economy.

Got questions? Contact Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland at 630-208-3841 or recycle@countyofkane.org.

Coming Next Month

Value of Recycling – Part 2: Glass – To Recycle or Not To Recycle, Waste Management’s customers want to know

  • Feature photo credit: Midwest Fiber 2013, by Jennifer Jarland

About Kane County Recycles

Kane County Recycles logoThe Kane County Recycles office manages recycling programs for electronics, books, hazardous materials, and other hard-to-recycle materials, and promotes best practices for household recycling, commercial business recycling, and composting. This office oversees recycling-related information and community outreach initiatives, oversees the annual licensing of Waste and Recycling Haulers, provides backyard compost bins, and implements the Kane County Solid Waste Plan. The office oversees the Recycling and Hauler Licensing Ordinance which requires commercial businesses and multi-family residences to recycle, and provides the provisions for hauler licensing and reporting.

For all you ever needed to know about recycling in Kane County see the Kane County Recycles webpage and also sign up here to receive an electronic copy of the new Green Guide each spring.