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Wisconsin Expert: Recycling is Not in a Crisis

The business aspect of recycling is subject to the ups and downs of the global marketplace, says the president of Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The business aspect of recycling is subject to the ups and downs of the global marketplace, says the president of Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
July 15, 2015

STEVENS POINT, Wis. - National business publications sucha as the Wall Street Journal and Forbes recently have run articles saying recycling is in a crisis, but the president of Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin disputes that notion.

Meleesa Johnson said there is no crisis, pointing out that the articles are based on the fact that some large national recyclers are in a financial downswing. Johnson went a step further, saying the notion that recycling would be free and pay for itself is a myth.

"When we started recycling," she said, "we heard, 'Oh, there's value in that plastic bottle or in that tin can,' and we quickly conflated that to mean recycling would pay for itself, it would be free - and it's not."

Johnson said the costs associated with remanufacturing mean the industry's financial picture will ebb and flow with the global economy. She said recycling still is less expensive than sending recyclables to the landfill.

When the first recycling laws were passed in 1976, Johnson said, it was made clear that recycling was intended as way to keep those materials out of landfills. While there is an element of cost-recovery, it comes down to a choice of what to do with waste material.

"Whether a plastic bottle becomes a new fleece blanket or is buried forever in a landfill," she said, "well, the better choice obviously is the fleece blanket."

She said the expenses arise from collecting the used items, processing it all, and then transporting that material to companies that can put it to good use - such as spinning plastic into polyester thread.

Markets will go up and down, Johnson said, but recycling still is a far more efficient way of dealing with waste.

"Do we want to use more oil to make new plastic bottles, or do we want to use that plastic bottle and not have to source new materials? When you look at the life cycle," she said, "recycling is a very beneficial thing."

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI