Be optimistic about the road ahead because real change is afoot, and we are standing on the edge of a defining moment.
I firmly believe recycling is a cornerstone of sustainability, creating a circular economy and providing for a growing population on a finite planet. Yet, I have to admit that even I am struggling to remain upbeat in the face of what seems like a relentless stream of negative press around recycling.
Every day my news feed has another story on a town shuttering its recycling program or temporarily landfilling its recyclable materials until recycling markets improve. While sensational headlines like “Is this the end of recycling?” are part ploy to draw readers, the truth is that times are extraordinarily tough: industry experts are saying these are some of the worst markets possibly ever. Everywhere I go, from meetings with local elected officials to weekend BBQs, I am being asked what is up with recycling. Recently I was directly asked, “How do we talk optimistically about recycling right now and should we?” And I wanted to offer my best response to help fuel the positive side of the conversation.
First, let’s set the record straight: recycling is not dead, it’s not going away, and with few exceptions, your materials are still being recycled and mostly through domestic markets. The communities cited on the news that are landfilling recyclable materials are the exception, not the rule. Only about one-third of our scrap materials are exported, which still leaves the majority of recycling happening in the U.S., creating domestic jobs and supporting local economies.