It’s no secret that waste is a problem in our society. Our landfills are overflowing, and we are having increased difficulty in disposing of a number of items. Currently much of our waste can’t be dealt with in the US and is shipped abroad for processing. This sounds simple but involves a huge amount of transport by truck and by ship before it can be dealt with, often inadequately, across the other side of the world. The solution to this problem is relatively straightforward, improved domestic recycling facilities.
In theory, just about everything can be recycled but rules on recycling vary state by state, and often within states as well due to the variety of recycling options we currently have. There are around 10,000 recycling centers in the continental US, roughly one per 30,000 people. In itself a pretty good ratio however not every facility deals with every kind of waste. Some only take plastic, some just glass or metal, very few are sufficiently large to cope with all kinds of waste. The result of this is that only 9% of plastic waste is recycled, and only 3% of Americans have access to curbside food collection, such is the lack of facilities.
There is a wider societal impact here though. For example, food waste can be used to produce electricity in a more environmentally friendly and cheaper way than fossil fuels, potentially lowering energy costs. Improved recycling of metals would reduce the demand on mining and expensive imports from Russia and China, it would also provide tens of thousands of jobs and be a significant boost to the economy. The waste industry is already worth 60 billion dollars and the cost of improving our facilities is relatively small compared to the current worth and potential payoff.
Metals are a particular worry as precious metals, such as gold and silver, are in very short supply with many companies looking at the prospect of “mining” landfill sites to retrieve old cell phones and laptops and stripping them for the metals. This is potentially a very lucrative industry as the metals can easily be sold on and with the demand for these products rising anyone who does this well will be highly successful. If we had improved facilities though at a local and state level then this could be done on a massive and profitable scale whilst significantly lowering the environmental impact of waste.
Householders are happy to send material to recycling and are generally quite well informed about the key issues but are being let down a little by the infrastructure at their disposal. Improved recycling will benefit everyone, either from through increased convenience, economic benefits or through minimizing their impact on the environment. Good waste management requires effect recycling facilities in order to be as effective as possible.