I pride myself on separating my paper, glass, plastic into separate recycling bins. But now after reading that recycling centers nationwide are being hit by recession and closing their doors, I don't know what to do with all my trash.
As consumer desire for new homes, cars, electronics and appliances wane, so do steel and pulp mills' demand for all the material that make up those things.
Most recyclables are shipped to Asian countries that use the material to make products that are shipped back to the U.S. to be sold, but if we don't buy anything, the scrap heap sits idle and gets bigger. That means a big drop in prices recyclers get for the trash they amass -- cardboard that sold for $135 a ton in September now goes for $35, and scrap metal tumbled from $525 a ton to $100.
Trash haulers who were once paid for recyclables are now getting zilch or have to pay to unload their wares. The city of Seattle once considered their recycling program a multimillion-dollar revenue source; now they may have to pay companies to take their recyclables. A Google search last week showed that recycling centers in Tucson, AZ; Natchez, MS; Wilkes-Barre, PA and my hometown of Sacramento, CA were either thinking of or planning to close their doors, at least temporarily.
So what do we Americans, who generated 250 million tons of trash last year, do with all that stuff? I called up Trey Granger, spokesperson for the environmental nonprofit Earth 911, for his advice.
"From everything we've heard, local governments closing their recycling programs will let people know when not to put stuff in the bins." The good news is that aluminum cans and glass bottles containing carbonated drinks are still generally accepted nationwide. "We haven't heard anything about those recycling centers being closed down," Granger said. "Eleven states have bottle-deposit laws so you can take cans and bottles to a collection center and get money back."
The bad news is that cardboard and paper are not in demand right now but with the holidays upon us, tons of wrapping paper, Christmas cards and present boxes will be thrown out -- and more of that will be headed to the landfills. "If you can't find a place that will take it for recycling, there's not a lot you can you do," Granger said. "You can try to store it in your garage or basement and wait until your recycling center turns around. But I haven't heard anything about how long that will be."
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