Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is recycling a scam?

A story brought to my attention by a friend of mine has me question what happens to my sack of recyclables after I dump it in the blue recycling bin behind my apartment.

According to
a piece in the LA Times, “recycling” firm Mission Fiber seems to be sitting on recyclables rather than actually recycling it. So much of it has piled up that some spontaneously erupts in flames, and the locals affectionately refer to the mounds of recyclables as “rat piles.” Rather than being converted back into newsprint or water bottles, the recyclable material is “moldering” and turning to “soggy compost,” reports the LA Times.

Of course, Mission Fiber is one recycling firm. And the problem could simply be that the company is mismanaged. But what if there’s a bigger issue at work? What if there simply isn’t enough demand for recyclable material? Instead of hustling to sort and recycle their recyclables, Mission Fiber is instead trucking some of the material to landfills.

What if consumers aren’t willing to pay premium prices for goods made of, or packaged in, recyclables? If that’s the case, then all the recycling in the world won’t change how much material ends up in landfills.

I tried to find an article online that investigates how much of the material in a recycling bin makes it back to store shelves, but I couldn’t find anything.

I did find
a piece at NPR essay explaining about half of Los Angeles’ recyclables go to local sorting facilities, while the other half goes to sorters overseas (mostly in the Philippines and China). From these facilities, “they sell it to companies who make new stuff out of old.” All of it? Not if it goes to Mission Fiber.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.