Is Recycling Too Expensive?

Recycling is good for the planet, and what’s good for the planet is good for us. We’ve all had this drilled into our heads since childhood, and it’s not incorrect. However, lately there’s been an open and public discussion about whether the economic cost of recycling matches or even outweighs the environmental benefits, at least when it comes to certain products.

For example, plastics are often sent to China to be reprocessed – an incredibly long journey to make just to be melted down. Or how about glass, which often requires waste managers to pay recycling plants to take it out of their facilities? In these cases, it seems like just producing more glass or plastics instead of recycling is the smarter economic option, but the cost of these products aren’t always accurate.

Pollution has an economic cost as well, and it’s one that we often fail to take into account when calculating manufacturing costs. The price of releasing more CO2 into the air is climate change, and both scientists and economists alike estimate that this will be the most expensive phenomenon the world has ever faced. Sea levels will rise, houses will flood, weather patterns will change and crops will die. We think we can combat all of that, but not without a heavy price tag attached. Thus while it seems economically viable to produce virgin materials like plastics and glass in the short run, it will always be more expensive in a longer model.