Since the time when Western countries started shipping off all manufacturing industries offshore (or even jsut across the country), packaging and the ability to recycle goods has been an issue. Some of my readers may remember milk delivered by the dairy farmer, or pop delivered by a local producer – those days are long gone, and as a result nothing is directly reused in any sector of the household consumer market – it all comes from far away, and ends up in the landfill, or the recycling box.
But where does it go from there?
The global financial crisis has sent prices for recyclable materials plummeting, as countries like China cut manufacturing output.Local authorities are now calling for ministers to relax rules on where waste collected from household recycling bins can be stored, allowing them to keep it in sealed warehouses, former military bases and airfields.
“Warehouses around Britain could start to be filled with waste paper, metal and plastic bottles. There’s nowhere for these materials to go at the moment. It’s rapidly becoming a very serious problem, ” Steve Eminton, of letsrecycle.com said.
This problem is not isolated to Britain, with contractors around the world wondering what to do with the materials they are collecting.
The Local Problem with Recycling
In the Kootenays, the whole premise of recycling needs to be examined. With no local industries taking the recycled materials as a raw product, these materials are being shipped hundreds of miles to processing plants and then onto a producer. Typically, materials are trucked to Calgary or Vancouver for processing, (why trains aren’t used I’m not sure), and as the above article points out, the market isn’t there for the materials anyway.
Some people have suggested that the materials should be sorted and stored until the value increases. I’d be interested to see some stats on when this is likely to happen, as it seems like any increase in the value of the raw materials is likely to coincide with higher gas prices and therefore higher transportation costs. As far back as 1996, this question was being asked in regards to paper…
According to a landmark 1996 report (PDF) sponsored by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, it’s a tougher call than you might imagine: “Recycling has environmental advantages over landfill, but the comparison with incineration is less clear cut. Much depends on the transport requirements for waste paper, the nature of the manufacturing process and the extent to which fossil fuels are used to generate the electricity needed for production.”
So, where does that leave us? What should our communities do with our recyclables? No one wants to be the one who suggests that recycling isn’t as green as it all seems, particularly now that we’ve got so many people recycling, but is it all worth the effort?