The COP26 Rotary Action

Recycling is falling apart
2021-12-03

Talking Point

As a Rotarian will you and your Club promote recycling and
discover where items that you recycle end up?

 

Op-ed: Despite grandiose Glasgow rhetoric, recycling is falling apart

By MATTHEW PARKER CHICAGO TRIBUNE NOV 15, 2021 AT 4:32 PM

 

A worker carries bags of used cans and bottles for recycling at a collection
point in New York on Oct. 18, 2021. (Ed Jones/AFP-Getty)

Despite the lofty carbon reduction goals grandiosely spoken about in Glasgow,
the future of recycling in the world looks bleak. Without a robust global and
localized recycling rate, other carbon reduction initiatives are virtually
hopeless. There are specific line items federally funding recycling in the
Invest in America Act. However, it looks like the “haves” will actually recycle
less, largely at the expense of the “have-nots.”Global trade in recycled metals
is significant; for instance, the world melts over 500 million metric tons of
recyclable steel each year, dramatically reducing the need for wasteful iron ore
and lowering the energy required to produce new steel. The appropriate
government roles in this historically lucrative — and carbon footprint
beneficial — commodity trading are to assist and promote the goal of recycling,
as the line items in the IAA are clearly designed to do. However, throwing
taxpayer money in one direction while having other governmental forces stymie
the ability to recycle is just wasteful of taxpayer dollars. The European Union
will be announcing a policy on Wednesday (expected to become law before the end
of this calendar year) that will either make the export of recycled metals
entirely illegal from the EU or only allow EU recycled exports to Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries. The support behind
this legislation comes from a faction within the EU bureaucracy that believes
that there is a burden being suffered by recyclables-importing countries, even
though those importing countries are paying significant money to buy those
valuable commodities and competing with other potential importing countries in a
bidding war to secure the scarce resources. The EU legislation, when passed,
will hurt have-not countries by starving them of recyclable material and driving
them to use and import more virgin materials like iron ore, with higher carbon
footprints and greater relative cost, to make the products they seek in order to
develop their economies. In addition, the legislation to ban the export of
recyclables will create a surplus of recyclables within the EU bloc that the
developed EU markets will have no use for so a portion of the recycling
collection and processing capacity will close and more EU-generated recyclable
material will need to be sent to a landfill. What environmental justice is found
in a rich-world initiative to throw things away rather than let poorer countries
beneficially use the resource?In California, a rule was created on Oct. 25 that
makes the metal shredding process (the dominant form of metal recycling) need to
comply as a “hazardous waste handling process.” That isn’t just a burdensome,
costly tax on recycling; it simply makes metal shredding impossible in that
state. Meanwhile a different rule in California prohibits the landfilling of
recyclable products. The hazardous waste designation of metal shredders ruling
will not be enforced until April 2022 but, at that time, the only solution for
end-of-life recyclables generated in California (like household washing
machines) will be for the material to leave the state. The end result will be
that California recyclable material ends up in Nevada, Mexico and by ocean
container to Asian destinations. All that will do, in the aggregate, is burn
needless carbon in transportation and clog California streets with formerly
recyclable material. Again, the message smacks of, “if you’re rich enough you
can afford not to recycle.” In Chicago metal recycling volumes are down 70% from
last year and look set to go lower next year. In Chicago’s case the problem
stems from modern-day not-in- my-backyard sentiments that now get sold as
“environmental justice.” The wealthy city of Chicago has eviscerated the city’s
recycling capability. So most steel recyclables generated in Chicago now get
transported and processed in Indiana, Milwaukee and farther afield, if they get
recycled at all. The end result needlessly adds to the overall carbon footprint
— another rich-world liberty that wealthy cities like Chicago can afford. The
governmental hostility toward recycling is likely to get worse in the coming
months for the small amount of remaining Chicago recycling capacity, and the
situation is likely to be replicated in other jurisdictions and further impede
overall U.S. recycling rates.There are dozens of other examples of wealthy
countries, states and localities selfishly serving their own narrow
self-interests at the cost of recycling. Glasgow and carbon be damned. If you’re
rich enough.

Matthew Parker has been an executive in the recycling industry for
the past 25 years. He currently works at a recycling facility in Chicago.

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