Culture 3 min read

Survey Shows Frustrating Year for U.S. Recycling Efforts



A recent report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) revealed that 2019 was a disappointing year for the United States‘ recycling efforts. Here’s why.

The United States sends tons of plastics to other countries for the labor-intensive process of recycling. In 2018, the country exported an equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers of American plastic recycling to countries like Bangladesh, Laos, Turkey, among others.

Two years ago, some Asian countries placed a limit on U.S. recycling imports. Meanwhile, China banned the importation of items intended for reuse altogether.

Unfortunately, the current policies haven’t directly addressed the massive disruption to the recycling system.

While the restrictions on recyclables may have frustrated the nation’s recycling efforts, the report suggests that it did not break it. Instead, they seem to have exposed the flaws in the current system.

What are those flaws, you ask?

Why 2019 Was a Frustrating Year for U.S. Recycling Efforts

Aside from the ban, the increasing cost of collecting and sorting materials may be the most significant contributing factor.

While some towns and counties have reduced what type of material to collect and recycle, others have ended their outside collection program. And that’s because they could not handle the increasing cost.

The report suggests that the cost of collecting and sorting remained higher than the value of some of the recyclables collected.

Other reasons recycling challenges in 2019 include:

  • The rise of plastics
  • Limited demand for recycled materials
  • Lack of access to recycling collection
  • Lack of corporate responsibility on the manufacturer’s part for their recyclable products

So, what can we do? What should we be doing?

3 Ways to Bolster Recycling Efforts in 2020

It goes back to the three essential R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

1. Reduce

The report suggests banning unnecessary single-use plastics such as polystyrene foam food containers and plastic bags. Meanwhile, services should only provide other single-use plastics such as utensils, condiment packets, and straws upon customer’s request.

Some new policies could also reduce plastic use in the coming year.

For example, a “Pay As You Throw” policy that charges consumers based on their trash quantity could reduce plastic use. Also, new laws could oppose the creation of plastic production infrastructures.

2. Reuse

Companies can introduce customer rebates to encourage the use of reusable bags and bottles. Likewise, sit-down restaurants can serve customers using reusable plates and foodware.

The government can also pass the “Right to Repair” laws. That way, consumers and independent repair shops can fix their stuff when it breaks.

3. Recycle

The report suggests that the authorities pass “Extended Producer Responsibility” laws. That way, manufacturers will be responsible for dealing with the waste that their products become.

Also, we could mandate that new products contain a specific percentage of recycled materials and ban food waste from landfills.

Finally, the report suggests expanding curbside recycling and composting efforts.

Not only will these changes protect public health, but they could also stop microplastic pollution. It would be a significant step in reducing the effects of climate change.

Read More: Plastic Roads: How Recycled Plastic Could Change our Roadways Forever

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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