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Recycling Challenges

For a recycling program to work, a substantially large, stable supply of recyclable material is necessary both economically and value creation. Three legislative options have been used to create such a supply: mandatory recycling collection, container deposit legislation, and refuse bans.

Mandatory collection laws set recycling targets for cities whereby a certain percentage of a material must be diverted from the city’s waste stream by a target date. The city is then responsible for working to meet this target. Container deposit legislation involves offering a refund for the return of certain containers, typically glass, plastic, and metal. When a product in such a container is purchased, a small surcharge is added to the price. This surcharge can be reclaimed by the consumer if the container is returned to a collection point.

These programs have been very successful, often resulting in an 80 percent recycling rate. Despite such good results, the shift in collection costs from local government to industry and consumers has created strong opposition to the creation of such programs in some areas. A variation on this is where the manufacturer bears responsibility for the recycling of their goods. In the European Union, the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) Directive requires producers of consumer electronics to reimburse the recyclers’ costs.

In the Asian sphere, industries tend to pass the cost to recycling companies requiring them to submit bids for industrial scraps. In many cases, this approach gets to be mercenary where recyclers are pushed to submit higher and higher bid prices to collect the industrial scraps. This meant that collection of industrial recyclable wastes (electronics, plastics, paper, metals, etc.) has become an added profit making activity of manufacturers and industrial users contrary to a globally shared desire to conserve fossil fuels and encourage recycling to reduce industrial wastes, landfills and ozone depletion.

An alternative way to increase supply of recyclates is to ban the disposal of certain materials as waste, often including used oil, old batteries, tires, and garden waste. One aim of this method is to create a viable economy for proper disposal of banned products. Care must be taken that enough of these recycling services exist, or such bans simply lead to increased illegal dumping. The same problem of making profit out of industrial scraps is also inherent and prevailing here. It would do well for governments to legislate to prevent capitalizing on sale of industrial scraps and, perhaps, even compel industries to aid in the recycling efforts by reducing the cost of scraps collection for recyclers. State incentives for businesses that reduces the scrap collection costs to zero could be a further initiative for the national recycling activity.

[Please look out for our next instalment of knowledge based article on Government-mandated Demand.]