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Sunday, February 16, 2020

from axios
Unable to absorb new costs, cities are killing recycling programs just as public concerns about climate change ratchet up, Kim Hart and Erica Pandey report.
  • China, the biggest buyer of U.S. recycled materials, has closed its doors. Before the ban, the U.S. was exporting around 70% of its waste to China.
  • Changing consumer behavior has made the trash-sorting process more complex and expensive.
What we're seeing: Axios paid a visit to a major recycling center in exurban D.C.
The plant — operated by Republic Services in Manassas, Va., in the heart of Prince William County — runs up to 22 hours a day to process the 550 tons of paper, plastic, aluminum and glass that are delivered daily.
  • Despite the heavy machinery and increased automation, the process is still extremely dependent on humans.
  • On each shift, 28 "sorters" sift through the material as it rolls down a series of fast-moving conveyer belts. The workers spot and pull out non-recyclable trash from the stream so fast that they look like blackjack dealers.
  • People throw surprising things — Christmas trees, old carpet, shoes, diapers and even cinder blocks — into their recycling bins.
Many cities are struggling to make recycling work.
  • About 60 cities have canceled their programs, according to Waste Dive.
  • Others have stopped accepting certain items. Alexandria, Va., and Katy, Tex., no longer collect glass. Baltimore County recently admitted it hasn't recycled the glass it collected for the past 7 years.
  • Costs are skyrocketing: Omaha, Neb., received a single bid for recycling services for $4 million, twice the city's budget.
What's needed: Cities have to renegotiate their recycling contracts, many of which are 30 years old, to find a viable business model.
  • That includes charging consumers for curbside pickup.
What's next: Researchers are developing robots to more accurately and efficiently complete tedious, dangerous recycling tasks like sorting.
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