- Austin’s recycling operations lost $1.9 million last fiscal year and $2.7 million during the previous two years. Still, the city will invest $7.5 million on a “[re]Manufacturing Hub,” a home to recycling and reuse manufacturers to make new products from the city’s recyclables.
- The revenue loss is accounted for by higher costs to recycle than income from the repurposed products. For instance glass yielded $11 per ton, but cost $75 per ton to process. Further, city officials say they cannot definitely determine if the materials were actually recycled as they were shipped along a multi-leg route. It will provide a guarantee that participating businesses’ salvaged materials are recycled.
- Back in 2011, Austin City Council was projecting $500,000 in profits from commodities annually after hiring two companies to handle materials from its curbside collection. In the latest fiscal year, Austin yielded slightly under $3 million for recyclables, and processing costs were $4.8 million.
Austin is banking a push to recycle more and the hub will not only generate more materials, but will generate profits if recyclables are processed locally rather than shipped out or landfilled. Bob Gedert, who runs Austin Resource Recovery, hopes that recyclables now collected on alternate weeks will be collected weekly in 2017.
Whether it’s cheaper to recycle or to landfill depends on how the numbers are examined. Adding in tipping fees, administrative overhead, and collection costs, recycling costs $81 more per ton than dumping, according to some analysts.
But Austin officials say recycling would be cheaper if Austinites sorted their trash properly. Nearly 45% of materials that residents send to the landfill could be recycled, said Austin Resource Recovery spokeswoman Memi Cárdenas, which the city believes is all the more reason to continue on its established path to improve recycling, as it reaches for a zero waste goal by 2040.
“If Austinites actually recycled that material, the cost per ton ... would be lower than the cost per ton to landfill,” said Cárdenas, claiming that transporting to the landfill would cost $359.47 per ton while recycling the same volume would cost $261.21.
Then there are jobs that recycling generates. In the Austin scenario, a city-commissioned study found that despite the lost revenue, recycling locally now accounts for about 1,300 jobs, providing total earnings of at least $56 million.
"Recycling certainly isn’t a perfect silver bullet that will solve all of our waste problems," Corey Troiani, a staffer at Texas Campaign for the Environment wrote in October, "but burning or burying our trash is far worse for the environment and the economy."