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Recycling is the process of converting the waste matter into useful products (Shaw 1). Through recycling, waste matter can be converted into reusable products, preventing the wastage of potentially useful materials. Recycling varies and includes reuse, which simply means using the merchandise again (Shaw 1). Environmentalists argue that humans can save the earth from its current perils including global warming, if they resort to recycling used products. They assert that recycling reduces the air and water pollution and energy wastage (Shaw 1). In the US, it is estimated that 30 percent of the solid refuse is recycled, leaving 15 percent to be burned, while 55 percent ends up in landfills (Shaw 1). In general, recycling plays a crucial role in waste reduction, and is a vital component in waste management. As for environmentalists, recycling offers a chance to minimize the waste products that end up in landfills. This is a crucial step towards the conservation of natural resources (Shaw 1). From the early 1980s, public has considered recycling as a key way of conserving the environment. Since then, the government, private ventures and society have embarked on relentless efforts concerning recycling (Shaw 1). Despite these enormous steps, which have doubled the rate of recycling in society, economists argue that the recycling is neither economically viable, nor does it conserve the environment.
Economics of Recycling
Between 1960s and 1970s, Americans were told that their landfills were filing up. Currently, this concept is considered a misconception, as the recent research indicates that landfills will last until 2019 without the need for new ones (Shaw 1). The fear of running out of landfills, as previously indicated, encouraged Americans to adopt recycling techniques. Contrary to the common belief, landfills’ space is increasing rather than decreasing, because the sites get larger. Similarly, studies have established that with an eleven-mile square, 256 feet deep landfill, America can contain all its waste for the subsequent century (Shaw 1).
In every country, government regulations determine the percentage and materials in question. In the past, when these regulations were absent, the product’s economic forces determined the amount of material to be recycled. Recycling of aluminum has been favored by the rising cost of energy since the 1970s (Shaw 1). This is true, because the production of aluminum from its ore requires more energy than the energy required in its recycling. Other factors, which have led to the recycling of aluminum, are the laws that discourage the littering of beverage containers. In the paper industries, 56 percent of papers are recycled (Shaw 1). Paper recycling is generally efficient, since products, such as cardboard, a recycled material, are widely used in various sectors. Likewise, their collection costs are minimal, as compared to other waste materials.
As compared to manufacturing from raw products, recycling processes can save a lot of energy. The extent of energy saved largely depends on the material under recycling (David 1). Scientists have established that products with large refining cost, such as metal containers, have higher recycling potential (David 1). However, despite the recycling potential, not all industries save money by adopting recycling processes. Labor, cost and technologies directed at recycling accomplishment result in high prices of recycled goods (David 1). Similarly, by saving energy, recycling can result in a reduction in pollution, as some of recycled products do not necessarily require refining processes used in the production of virgin products. Therefore, it is wise for a venture to analyze the energy consumed during a recycling process, and the amount required during the production of virgin materials. To be economically viable, the energy spent during the recycling process should be less than the energy used in the production of virgin materials (David 1). Ironically, this does not always apply, as some projects aimed at recycling products have proved to be more energy consuming than the production of virgin materials.
Plastics contribute the least recycled products, as compared to papers and aluminum (Shaw 1). The main reason for this scenario is that plastic products comprise of different resins, hence they need selective processing. This process entails the separation of plastics into several groups relative to their resins. To ease on their selection, plastic companies have distinctively identified the resin type in each packaging plastics. Despite this effort by the plastic manufacturing industries, people fail to separate plastics in the appropriate manner, compromising on the recycling gains (Shaw 1). Correspondingly, it has been established that the cost of producing a plastic from its raw materials is relatively cheaper, than the cost of recycling (Shaw 1).
Contrary to the common belief, the recycling process does not eradicate environmental turmoil. The processes involved in most recycling endeavors, like other main industrial processes, results in pollution. Recent studies indicate that more toxins were identified among recycled paper products, as compared to virgin paper products (Kemper and John 78). Likewise, recycling of more papers will not necessarily lead to the preservation of trees, since the need for tree products is ever increasing.
Economists have established some of governmental recycling programs to be costly (Kemper and John 11). In such incidences, more resources are wasted, rather than being conserved. In the private sector, recycling is only adopted when it proves to be economically viable. Comparing the curbside recycling method and the traditional landfill method of waste management, the traditional landfill disposal is relatively cheap, as compared to the other program (David 1). Thus, this implies that curbside programs require enomous amounts of capital and labor, yet their returns outweigh the cost of hiring workers and equipment. Similarly, the cost of collecting and shipping of recycled glasses can be more costly than returns (David 1). These facts indicate that it is economically efficient to landfill some waste products, other than recycling them. Even with the economists’ advice on some of the recycled products deemed economically unviable, some local governments continue with the expensive curbside programs (David 1).
Requirements Needed for Economical Recycling
For a recycling endeavor to be considered economically feasible, certain conditions must be met. These conditions are the sufficient supply of waste materials, technology to extract waste materials, nearby recycling industry and the market demand for recycled products (Kemper and John 68). In the contemporary society, the last two requirements have been considerably overlooked, compromising the efficiency of recycling. The sufficient supply of materials to undergo recycling ensures that the starting cost of recycling industries will be recovered, and, eventually, facilitate the effective productivity (Kemper and John 68). Market Economists have pointed out that the absence of industrial and consumer market for the recycled products jeopardizes the whole process and efforts of recycling (Kemper and John 68).
Trade in Recyclate
The regional and global trade on recyclates has been a serious concern to most environmentalists (Kemper and John 55). Environmentalist argue that the most products traded as recyclates end up being reused or in landfills. Reports show that a significant percentage of computers exported from the US to undergo the recycling end up not being recycled at all (Kemper and John 55). Currently, electronics are the most recycled products globally. In this regard, more expenses are incurred in their collection and recycling. While environmentalists argue that more effort needs to be focused on recycling these electronic wastes, critics affirm that e-wastes are increasingly being dumped in the developing countries (Kemper and John 55). As a result, these toxic materials, including mercury and lead, will eventually harm individuals in the immediate environment. In the past, scrupulous business owners in China dismantled electronic products destined to be recycled, and sold them to unsuspecting users (Kemper and John 55). In the Northwestern parts of the US, recycled papers attract minimal sales, as compared to virgin papers. The numerous pulp mills in the area coupled with its proximity to Asian markets facilitate this scenario (Kemper &John 55).
It is the general idea that recycling has resulted in a few benefits, such as the reduction in the air and water pollution. Similarly, recycling has resulted in enormous job creation for those involved in recycling tasks. Despite these gains, recycling has resulted in resource wastage, instead of conserving them. It was analyzed that citing the use of the curbside recycling system, the local authorities would have saved on public funds, if came up with better and economically sensible technologies to replace this expensive system. In addition, the government should consider both the economists’ and environmentalists’ views on matters relating to recycling. Guided by several government uneconomical recycling projects, the state should follow suit with the private sector and recycle only those products that been proven to be economically feasible. Likewise, environmentalists should be liberal enough and know that environmental problems cannot be solved singlehandedly, but by accommodating other experts’ views and suggestions. Through this, they should work together on advising the government on viable recycling programs, and, thus, evade economical blunders previously witnessed. Lastly, the law should mandate companies that prefer recycling their products to design them in consideration to the recycling process. In this regard, materials destined to be recycled should be label with symbols advocating for recycling.