This year, we did a feature on how various factors had combined to make recycling an economic winner for major metropolitan areas in the US. The story argued that it was no single factor that drove this change; rather, a combination of automation and improved sensor technology, more effective use of recycled materials, and the economics of landfilling all contributed.
But recently, The Washington Post described how a similarly diverse set of changes has caused recycling companies to struggle. First and foremost has been the plunge in energy prices, which have dropped the cost of extracting raw materials or producing plastics. Another problem comes from the fact that companies are working hard to reduce the amount of packaging material they use, which means less raw material for recycling in the waste stream overall.
On top of those issues, one major consumer of recyclables—China—has implemented recent changes that add to recycling woes. These include new regulations on importing materials as well as a new emphasis on the use of domestic sources. A general slowdown of manufacturing in the country hasn't helped, either.
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