- At the recent Resource Recycling Conference in New Orleans, Waste Management CEO David Steiner said he doesn't plan to stop talking about the challenges of recycling, despite criticism from some in the industry.
- Steiner said his company processed 11 million tons of recyclable material last year and is beginning to focus more on the categories which are most cost-effective: fiber, plastic bottles and metals.
- As for glass and organics, Steiner said that municipalities or some other "natural payer" may need to help subsidize collection costs if his company can't generate enough revenue from the material.
Steiner said that his main reason for being so publicly open about the challenges of recycling is to start a conversation around sustaining its long-term future. "For good portions of the last years, we've been losing money in recycling," he said, as reported by Resource Recycling. "Guess what follows losses? Disinvestment. … We needed the wider community to understand what was going on."
In his remarks, Steiner referenced recent research that the company has been talking about which measured the potential costs and greenhouse gas reductions of diverting certain materials. Based on this logic it becomes harder to justify the collection of materials such as organic waste and glass when weighing environmental benefits against cost. This approach is part of what led to glass being excluded from the company's latest recycling contract with Houston.
Despite these financial issues, industry coalitions have been formed to strategize solutions for these materials and some specialized companies have found ways to make their programs work. Recognizing that the economics of recycling are shifting may not be popular, but it may be a necessary step toward achieving the multitude of "zero waste" goals across the country in a financially sustainable way.