“Counties play an important role in sustainable waste management,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario. “It is important we maintain recycling efforts that are essential for conserving natural resources and keeping waste out of landfills.”
However, the future of these operations is threatened by global market volatility. Policies implemented by China– often referred to collectively as National Sword – restrict the importation of foreign recyclables. Many counties have been hard hit by these policies and are experiencing recycling budget shortfalls.
Without support through this crisis, residents will pay more for curbside recycling, recyclables will be landfilled, or counties will have to transfer funds from other critical services to pay for the increased cost of recycling. These impacts are a step back in the pursuit of sustainability.
NYSAC recently submitted testimony to the Senate & Assembly Standing Committees on Environmental Conservation on Responding to the Recycling Crisis. Counties have three main areas of concern:
Contamination is an industry term used to describe items that either do not belong in the recycling bin or are disposed of in the wrong way. We estimate that 15 to 30 percent of the recycling stream is contaminated. Top contaminants include glass, Styrofoam, plastic bags, batteries, single-use items, textiles, and single-serve coffee pods.
Many localities have seen more than a 1,000% increase in their recycling costs since 2017 due to the paper market recession. Some counties are even questioning whether recycling is fiscally sustainable. Local, cost-effective solutions are required to continue recycling paper.
- Local recycling programs need state support
Counties are urging state lawmakers to support local recycling programs. The state should increase the state match for education and equipment grants, pass product stewardship legislation, promote market development, expand the Bottle Bill to include additional glass containers, and renew state support for electronic waste recycling.
Unsustainable cost increases fuel the recycling crisis. Creating solutions to improve recycling and resolve this crisis will require working together. With cleaner recyclables, better technology, and greater capacity for in-state processing, New York will be less susceptible to future market downturns.
Investing in local recycling programs is an essential way to reduce waste and protect our environment.
"Spend some time learning about what happens to the things you throw away," said Richard Bills, Environmental Project Coordinator for Steuben County. "What happens when something is sent off for recycling? It can be an eye opening journey.