Reduced recycling

Recycling household discards has grown into a big business in recent decades, but the industry is in trouble. NC State University economist Mike Walden explains to his wife, host Mary Walden.

“And this is an interesting issue because you and I grew up with recycling. There’s always been a campaign for households to recycle more, to reduce the burden put on landfills, etc., to try to be better to the environment by reusing things.

“But recycling is apparently in trouble right now, and there are two big issues. One is that the benefit, the financial benefit, is going down. What the U.S. does with a lot of its recycled materials is sell them, those materials, to foreign coutries.

With the stronger dollar, that’s been hurting those sales, because a stronger dollar makes the price of our recycled materials higher to foreign countries. So that’s one issue.

“The second issue is that we households aren’t doing our jobs in terms of recycling. There are studies that show that people don’t follow the rules in terms of sorting their recycling. There are also studies that indicate that people use recycling bins for their normal trash — the trash that will go to landfills. And what this does is increase the cost to the recycling companies. They have to then go in and resort and make sure things are going where they are (supposed to).

“So the bottom line is the profits to recycling are way down. And that’s putting pressure on the public sector to up subsidies. So this is an issue I think we are going to hear about down the line.”