- Recycling used to be profitable for companies across the U.S., but lower commodity prices, the particular recycling systems in place in municipalities, and less foreign demand for recyclables have hurt the business. Many recycling centers throughout the nation are losing money, a situation that waste and recycling industry leaders say can’t continue for long without seeing more recyclers leave the market due to its unprofitability. "If people feel that recycling is important — and I think they do, increasingly — then we are talking about a nationwide crisis," Waste Management CEO David Steiner told The Washington Post.
- A culprit in the recycling industry’s situation is the approach which many municipalities take toward recycling: the big blue bins residents of many towns use to recycle have gotten bigger, while residents have become more indiscriminate in what they place in those bins. Items such as foam packaging and shoes are ending up in the bins, gumming up the works at recycling plants.
- Lower oil prices and less demand by China and other foreign companies for U.S. recyclables have slashed the bottom lines of many industry firms, forcing some to go out of business or to be bought by larger firms. While some industry watchers say business owners and executives are overstating the problems of low profit or lack of profit in the industry, mergers of smaller and larger companies continue.
Despite the pessimistic talk of some recycling company executives, markets for recyclables have matured, said Eric A. Goldstein, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Still, single-stream recycling could be part of the problem of low profit, though municipalities’ participation in such programs seems to be trending upward. More than a third of all glass that is recycled is broken in the process of being recycled, either before being sent to a sorting facility or while being sorted there. Shards of glass created at such sites often end up as cover at landfills.
Industry leaders say increasing composting in municipalities throughout the nation could help recyclers be more profitable. Others say the current situation cannot continue unaddressed, and that soon, government agencies will need to participate and fund more aspects of the recycling process.