Recycling ‘Like Throwing Money Away’

Published January 1, 2004

Curbside recycling is one of the most wasteful endeavors practiced by local governments, concluded an investigation by an Orlando, Florida television news station.

According to WFTV Channel 9, recycling programs typically fail to pay for themselves and can cost taxpayers tremendous amounts of money–while providing very negligible benefits.

“When Central Florida began recycling programs years ago, it sounded like a win-win situation. We were protecting the Earth and saving money,” reported WFTV. “But, instead, a Channel 9 investigation discovered recycling is like throwing money away.”

Just how much money? WFTV reported that the small city of St. Cloud spends $220,000 per year on recycling … and recovers only $19,000 for its recycled materials.

“No, [we haven’t made any money off recycling],” St. Cloud Superintendent of Solid Waste Ray Tobey told WFTV. “It’s always been [a loss]. We’ve always been on the losing side.”

Similarly, Orange County spends roughly $3 million per year to collect recyclables, but sells them for only $56,000.

“We don’t do it to make money, we do try to cover our costs.”

To cover their costs, Orange County and other local communities add a fee to homeowners’ garbage collection bills. At $3 million per year, a significant share of Orange County garbage collection fees pay for a program that is unrelated to typical garbage collection services.

“So why do they keep doing it?” asked WFTV. “Not for the cash, but to keep landfills from filling up.” However, WFTV reported the program produces few environmental benefits.

According to WFTV, “There is a real debate about whether we’re running out of space” in landfills. As the news station reported, a study of landfill programs concluded all the trash America will generate in the next 1,000 years could fit in a single landfill seven miles long by five miles wide.

And, of course, sending a fleet of trucks all over the county to collect garbage produces a significant amount of air pollution and raises a host of other environmental concerns.

“You throw that plastic drink bottle in the recycle bin and you’ve done your civic duty of recycling … as long as you don’t mind picking up the bill,” the investigation concluded.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].