Sunday, March 9, 2008

Does Curbside Recycling Make Cents?

Curbside Recycling in New York

Curbside recycling started for us in the '90's in upstate New York when they gave everyone a tub. To encourage people to recycle, they started charging $2 per bag for regular garbage so it paid to recycle to the max, which we did.

Voluntary, Non-Curbside Recycling in Florida

I did not think much about the economics of curbside recycling until we moved down to Florida in 2003 and were surprised they did not have it. All they had was recycling of aluminum cans, newspapers, and plastic bags. We had to do most of the work involved in separating and transporting them.

Aluminum cans had to be dropped off at the postal facility where volunteers from the Lion's Club would collect them. That raised money for that charity, which proves that the aluminum is worth more than the recycling effort, but only if most of the work is done by end users and volunteers. Since I had to drive past the postal facility daily it did not cost me any extra gasoline or wear and tear on my car to participate.

Newspapers had to be dropped off at a local church or synagogue, and those charities made money, again proving that newsprint is worth more than the recycling effort, again only if most of the work is done by volunteers. There was no extra transport cost for end users because these religious facilities are centrally located and people drive by regularly.

The same is true of plastic bags, which end users drop off at grocery stores which most of us visit a couple times a week.

Recycling of glass, plastic containers, and cardboard was only available at a distant location. Few of us participated in that aspect of recycling. Apparently, those items were not worth the cost of recycling them. Since cost is closely related to energy usage, it is not economical to recycle glass, plastic containers and cardboard even if the end user does the separating and most of the transporting at the source end.

Apparently Wasteful Curbside Recycling in Florida

The economics of recycling changed this month when they started curbside recycling here in Central Florida. They raised our monthly garbage bill by $1.47 and required us to buy special clear plastic bags. It will cost me about $2.00 per month for the convenience of curbside recycling. That means the extra cost to the recycling company for the gasoline and manpower and wear and tear on their trucks and the plant for separating and processing the recycled materials is more than the value they will get when they sell the stuff for re-manufacture into something of value. Again, since cost is a good analog of energy usage, it appears curbside recycling wastes more energy than it yields.

The example of charities making money recycling aluminum cans and newsprint proves that that part of the recycle stream has real value and saves energy overall. Therefore, since the curbside recycler will make some money selling aluminum and newsprint, it is clear the other stuff (glass, plastic containers ...) and the extra energy expended in curbside pickup, will waste far more energy than it saves.

The whole point of recycling is to reduce our carbon footprint, yet, curbside recycling appears to waste far more energy than it saves. Please note, before curbside recycling, our garbage bill was paying the full cost of curbside pickup and sanitary landfill disposal of non-recycled garbage. Charities were making money from our aluminum and newsprint waste. It seems to me that curbside recycling is a sham when it comes to the ultimate goal of reduced energy consumption!

Does anyone have economic data to disprove my assertion? (And don't give me the old baloney that they lose money on every recycled item but make it up by the volume of recycling :^)

Ira Glickstein

No comments: