The past few years have brought sweeping changes to U.S. recycling programs, with the fallout from international policy decisions and a fluctuating market still ongoing.
That reality previously fed a narrative that recycling is in peril. Multiple municipalities have limited their curbside programs in recent years and some local officials have argued anywhere between hundreds to thousands of communities have ended curbside programs. While recycling is undoubtedly changing in all 50 states and territories, data shows the situation may be more complicated — and nuanced — than coverage has indicated.
An estimated 90 municipalities have canceled their curbside recycling programs as a result, but more than a dozen have since resumed them following public outcry and new solutions. These dynamics could be changing once again following financial effects from the coronavirus pandemic, which have prompted multiple cancellation announcements in recent weeks.
In 2017, Waste Dive began tracking the aftermath of China's scrap import policies and their effects on local communities. We contacted every state environmental agency at least twice to gauge impacts (most recently in summer 2019) and closely monitored local news reports on program changes and price increases. Additionally, we noted expanded education efforts, new contract structures and other solutions.
In December 2019, we found around 60 municipalities had completely suspended or canceled their curbside programs. That number is well below some of the statistics local officials have cited. When officials in Mississippi's largest city, Jackson, announced a halt to curbside recycling in August, they asserted the city was "one of more than 300 cities" forced to suspend their services.
Local officials in another area went even farther. When Douglas, Wyoming informed residents the city would be suspending recycling services due to economic factors, City Administrator Jonathan Teichert pointed to a staggering statistic.
"It's a nationwide problem. There's been over 3,000 municipalities that have had to suspend — and many of them are larger cities," Teichert said, according to local media reports. He did not clarify if that number included drop-off services along with curbside.
Neither Teichert nor Jackson Public Works Director Robert Miller responded to requests for comment from Waste Dive seeking a source for their numbers. But Waste Dive's initial findings track with those of The Recycling Partnership, one of the only organizations regularly documenting curbside cancellations. The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) concurred – estimating the total is in the 50 to 60 range – as did the the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
SWANA and other groups, including the National Waste and Recycling Association, say they have struggled with misinformation about the challenges facing recycling, including inflated cancellation numbers. But alarm over recycling has also generated an outpouring of interest at the federal level, with backing from the industry, that could lead to policy changes in the future.
In the meantime, some communities have backtracked on their decisions to cancel curbside programs. Deerfield Beach in Florida restarted service with a new processing fee, for example, while Oregon's Hood River County resumed recycling in many areas last summer after raising rates and cutting mixed plastics. Other situations are more complex. In Maine, several communities canceled while they awaited the opening of a Fiberight facility, which allows for commingling of recyclables and waste.
Further complicating these trends, multiple municipalities in various states have now decided to end their curbside recycling programs due to financial limitations following the pandemic. As concerns mount about state and local budgets, additional cancellations could be coming in the months ahead.
Waste Dive will continue to update this list of curbside program cancellation, suspensions and restorations in the months ahead. This does not include drop-off programs or partial cuts. The most recent additions are noted in bold text.
If you know of any necessary updates to this list, please contact us at [email protected]
|Santa Rosa County||Florida||Y|
|Plymouth||Massachusetts||Y (Subscription only)|
|Bosque Farms||New Mexico||N|
|Silver City||New Mexico||N|
|Fort Edward||New York||N|
|Bessemer City||North Carolina||N|
|Craven County||North Carolina||Y|
|Kings Mountain||North Carolina||N|
|China Grove||North Carolina||N|
|Nags Head||North Carolina||N|
|Pine Ridge||South Carolina||N|
|Harris County Municipal Utility District 119||Texas||N|