Effective Recycling Takes More Than Good Feelings

Lenore Staats

It was the late 1970s when this writer first heard about curbside recycling. We were not doing it in my town yet, but my family was already practicing it to some degree. We collected and recycled newspapers to supplement the family budget. I remember how proud I felt to know […]

Effective Recycling Takes More Than Good Feelings

It was the late 1970s when this writer first heard about curbside recycling. We were not doing it in my town yet, but my family was already practicing it to some degree. We collected and recycled newspapers to supplement the family budget. I remember how proud I felt to know that I was already recycling even as my classmates were learning about it for the very first time.

More than 40 years later, I now realize that effective recycling takes more than good feelings. It is not enough to tell people that putting their recyclables to the curb will help save the planet. They might feel good about doing so for the first few months, but the good feelings will eventually wear off.

Therein lies the difference between municipal recycling and the private recycling practiced by companies like Seraphim Plastics. Seraphim is a Tennessee company that offers industrial plastic recycling in seven states. They collect, process, and resell a variety of commercial plastic waste materials.

1. Recycling Costs Money

Good feelings only go so far in the recycling game. Like it or not, recycling costs money. Seraphim Plastics spends quite a bit to collect plastic waste and ship it to their processing center. They have to pay their drivers. They have to cover the costs of their vehicles, the fuel, insurance, and so forth. They have to pay everyone who works in the processing center and company headquarters.

They must be able to sell the recovered material at a high enough price and volume to cover their costs and make a profit. No worries, though. They have been doing it successfully for more than 25 years. Management has figured out how to recycle plastic waste and make money doing it.

Profit is what separates commercial and residential recycling. It is a lot easier to make money in a commercial setting because the system is set up expressly for that purpose. Residential recycling is rarely pursued for profit. Its motive is good feelings.

2. Residential Recycling Is Wasteful

People are surprised to learn that residential recycling accomplishes very little. They are even troubled to learn that their local curbside programs are actually wasteful. But that is exactly the case more often than not. Curbside recycling programs waste time, money, and valuable resources.

It would be nice if municipalities could wave a magic wand and solve all their recycling problems in one fell swoop. But that’s not reality. Municipalities must invest financial resources just like private companies. They have to invest in labor and time. The big problem is that municipalities are not set up to be efficient and profit generating. They are bloated public entities that exist to serve the needs of those who run them.

3. Recycling’s Cynical Reality

Who benefits from residential recycling? The waste haulers who secure the contracts from their respective municipalities. Bureaucrats also benefit because they can use residential recycling to advance their own agendas. Then there are special-interest groups, politicians, and all the small companies and corporations that profit off the green movement.

All of this might sound quite cynical to you. If that’s the case, thanks for still reading all the way through. If nothing else, you hopefully now understand that effective recycling requires more than good feelings. It requires resources and mindsets that government entities simply do not possess.

Recycling really can work. We just have to turn it over to private enterprise and let the profit motive do its thing. History proves it is the only way to accomplish anything. People require incentive to do things. That incentive has to be more than good feelings.