Starting Saturday, Bridgeville residents are joining a hot new trend sweeping America—contributing more trash to landfills.
As part of the borough’s new, five-year garbage contract with Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill, glass items will no longer be accepted with recyclables. Nor will plastic bottles and containers labeled #3 through #7, which includes yogurt containers, squeezable ketchup bottles, and restaurant take-out containers.
Borough officials posted the new recycling rules to Facebook last week in the form of a blurry image. The notice prompted some residents to voice their displeasure in the comment section:
Bridgeville isn’t alone. The borough’s former trash hauler, Waste Management, is introducing similar rules for 2019.
The simple truth is that recycling as an industry has become less profitable in recent years, and companies don’t want your garbage if they can’t make money from it.
As a result, refuse companies throughout Allegheny County and across the nation are cutting back on which items they’ll accept as recyclable. Everything else goes to a landfill or gets incinerated.
There’s a complicated economic story behind all of this, but here’s the short version:
- Americans’ recycling bins are stuffed with items that can’t be recycled.
- The Chinese no longer want to deal with it.
- Other countries purchase America’s recyclables, but with China out of the picture, it’s a buyer’s market.
- Glass in particular has become difficult to recycle at a profit.
Now the slightly longer version:
Americans tend to be “wishful recyclers,” who put all kinds of pure trash items into their blue bins, including diapers, bowling balls, Christmas lights. Between 20 to 40 of items in the recycling bins are actually just garbage, according to one recycling plant spokesperson.
Three years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported on how this was specifically hurting the glass recycling business:
…when used glass arrived at its plants 20 years ago, it was 98% glass and 2% other castoffs, such as paper labels and bottle caps. These days, some truckloads can include up to 50% garbage, [a glass recycling executive] said.
“Now what comes with the glass are rocks, shredded paper, chicken bones people left in their takeout containers, and hypodermic needles.”
The company has had to invest in expensive machinery to separate the glass from the trash, then has to dispose of the garbage, making recycling a much costlier equation.–Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2015
Then in 2018, China enacted tough new rules regarding which foreign waste can be imported into the country. Some plastics were outright banned, while cardboard and scrap metal must now be 99.5% “pure,” meaning no food scraps other other contaminants.
For many recycling companies, it has become extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to make a profit while meeting China’s standards using current recycling practices As a result, the world junk market has become saturated and value of scrap has plummeted.
For residents in Bridgeville and many other communities, that means that more of your trash is headed to the landfill until recycling firms find a way to make it profitable, whether that’s through new technologies, government subsidies, or simply higher trash collection fees for communities willing to pay more to be green.