Resources To Help Cities Make Recycling Feasible

Many cities and states are struggling to find a feasible process for collecting, sorting and recycling waste materials. In fact, many recyclable items wind up in landfills due to lack of resources or infrastructure

By Mary Velan


Many cities and states are struggling to find a feasible process for collecting, sorting and recycling waste materials. In fact, many recyclable items wind up in landfills due to lack of resources or infrastructure.

As a result, new programs are being utilized to make recycling more efficient at the local level.

The Problem

Even though residents may take the time to separate their trash so certain items can be recycled, many materials are not recycled but placed in landfills or incinerated. One main cause of this inefficient waste management is a lack of recycling infrastructure. The majority of recycling facilities do not have the capabilities to collect, sort, clean and process certain materials - such as plastic - in a profitable way.

In addition, there is often an uneven demand for different recyclable materials, making the sorting process even more cost-prohibitive. Many large companies are seeking out certain plastics to use in their products, but other materials like mixed glass generate a much weaker demand. In terms of what items individuals are recycling regularly, people tend to separate paper from trash more often than other recyclable materials - further extending disparities, The New York Times reported.

Furthermore, it is estimated that cities in the United States are spending $5 billion annually shipping waste into landfills. While all waste materials cost money to manage and recycle, communities are struggling to control the costs associated with electronics recycling in particular. When certain electronic devices are thrown away, they often create health hazards because they contain dangerous materials such as mercury and lead. These substances can seep into soil and groundwater creating environmental problems. When handled properly, however, many of the devices can be recycled - but at a high cost to local agencies, Pew Charitable Trusts reported.

Closed Loop Fund

One solution designed to help communities better manage and recycle a wider variety of materials is the Closed Loop Fund . The $100 million fund provides no-interest loans to cities and below-market-rate loans to companies interested in building recycling infrastructure. The fund is sourced by nine large companies that have committed between $5 million and $10 million each. The overall goal is to make it easier for communities to take care of hard-to-recycle plastics through financial aid and incentives for both the public and private sectors.

The Closed Loop Fund has set some lofty goals so that by 2035 the organization will:

  • Eliminate more than 50 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Divert more than 20 million cumulative tons of waste from landfills
  • Create 20,000+ local jobs nationwide
  • Save nearly $1.2 billion for American cities
  • Prove replicable models that will help unlock additional investment in recycling

How will this be achieved? The Closed Loop Fund aims to remove the obstacles standing in the way of expanding existing recycling programs, which will help:

  • Attract additional, more affordable capital to the industry
  • Increase recycling access
  • Scale solutions that improve recycling profitability

Each loan allocated through the fund must be used to divert a significant amount of waste material out of landfills and into recycling programs. The loan recipients must implement transparent reporting practices and provide a clear line of site for repayment so if the model is successful it can be repeated in other communities. The zero interest loans to cities and below market loans to companies aim to prove the market for single-stream expansion and modernization by maximizing recycling profitability. The goal is to enhance existing infrastructure and programs while closing the loop on recycling materials.

Each investment made through the fund falls into one of three categories:

  • The collection of a wide range of recyclable materials that expand upon curbside programs
  • The sorting of recyclables into marketable commodities so as to generate profits and evolve the recycling stream
  • The processing of marketable commodities to play a bigger role in other key industries

Finally, those involved in the Closed Loop Fund aim to leverage their network to influence the market and increase capital investment and demand for diverse recycled content. This includes educating brands on how their packaging materials impact the recycling system and informing consumers on where maximum change potential lies. The investments act as research opportunities to develop best practices and models for communities to deploy and profit from.

Private Sector Partnerships

Understanding local government resources alone are often not enough to increase participation in recycling programs and turning profits, many cities are working with organizations to boost results. The city of North Miami, for example, is partnering with Recyclebank to drive up recycling operations. All single family homes in North Miami that have curbside recycling service can participate in the program. Recyclebank will distribute reward points to local residents for how much material they choose to recycle, Waste360 reported.

Households in North Miami can activate or reactive an account to start earning reward points that can be used in the community. Furthermore, any schools participating in the program can raise up to $2,500 for their projects through recycling initiatives.

After partnering with Philadelphia on the rewards program, Recyclebank helped the city recycle a record 128,000 tons of material in 2014, marking a 155 percent increase in recycling from 2008, Waste360 reported.

Recyclebank is also offering a monthly educational service to inform residents on the hazards of contaminated materials being collected for recycling. Recyclebank provides households with literature explaining recycling contamination and best practices for how to prevent it.

Grant Funding

The city of Athens received a grant to get a glass recycling program up and running. The $9,170 grant will pay for a roll-off receptacle that collects glass for recycling as well as an educational campaign to inform the public of the new recycling opportunity designed by Keep Athens Beautiful.

“Keep Athens Beautiful is very pleased that our partnership with the city resulted in a grant from the East Texas Council of Governments to provide a container at the city collection site for the citizens of Athens the opportunity to recycle glasses," Keep Athens Beautiful Executive Director Carol Morton said. “The biggest question we get is, 'Why can't we recycle glass, or where can we recycle glass?' Now we will have an option for them."

The grant is being administered by the East Texas Council of Governments through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The Regional Solid Waste Grant Program offers funds to support regional waste minimization efforts in the region, The Athens Review reported.

Public Policy

When it comes to recycling consistency, many local governments find themselves following the lead of state laws, many of which mandate specific rules for how to handle recyclables and hazardous materials.

California, for example, became the first state to pas a law creating "e-cycling" or the recycling of electronics and e-waste. The specialized recycling service was paid for through consumer fees placed on the purchase of electronic devices by consumers. Other states hand off the cost of e-cycling onto manufacturers of the devices by requiring them to pay for the collection and processing of certain amounts of e-waste based on their sale volumes within a state, Pew Charitable Trusts reported.

Still other states have centralized or convenience-based programs that require electronics makers to pay for local-off centers where materials can be recycled. The different laws within each state can make it difficult for manufacturers to meet reporting and compliance standards. Likewise, if businesses meet their quotas early and stop paying into local programs, states see recycling costs rise. This can leave the remainder of the costs on the shoulders of nonprofits and local governments, if not individual consumers.

According to the Product Stewardship Institute, states can modify their fee programs to ensure manufacturers must keep paying for recycling collection after their quotas have been met. In Washington and Oregon manufacturers pay for cities to run collection sites. This creates easily accessible recycling centers where residents can recycle materials at their convenience and the states do not have to worry about losing manufacturing funding when quotas are met. As a result, these states are able to maintain consistent, stable e-cycling programs, Pew Charitable Trusts reported.

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