Some cities are closing recycling plants. Others are ending curbside pickup. For recycling to be sustainable, consumers must learn to sort their trash better.
Ever since cities began offering curbside recycling programs, skeptics have joked about how it all ends up going to the same place as the garbage. In Franklin, N.H., that’s actually true.
Residents there still sort items into separate recycling bins and garbage cans, but the different material all gets hauled to the same incinerator. “We are currently disposing of all of it at the trash plant,” says Judie Milner, Franklin’s city manager, “because recycling costs are twice as high.”
Those costs have spiked all over. Until this past January, China took 40 percent of America’s gently used paper, metals and plastic. Now, it accepts hardly any of it. China won’t take recycled material from this country, or others, unless it’s 99.5 percent free of contaminants. Some of the material is currently being processed domestically or is getting sent to other countries, but the loss of the biggest market has led some domestic recycling plants to shut down and some cities to end curbside pickup of recyclables.