Is Recycling Worthwhile?

I’ve read conflicting reports as to whether municipal recycling actually works or not.

Here’s some musings on that. I have no idea if these numbers are accurate.
I took a look through my city’s budget

I spy that last year…
Disposing of about 7,000 tons of garbage cost $2.6 million (line 46310, chart 8-7)
Disposing of about 4,000 tons of recycling cost $175,000 (line 46320, chart 8-7)
But we also paid 4 “Recycling Maintenance Workers”. I’ll assume they each were paid $50,000.

That means getting rid of recycling costs $94 per ton and garbage costs $371 per ton. So from a money perspective, recycling seems to make sense. But my numbers could be WAAY off. I’m just some guy that spend 1/2 an hour looking up the answer online. I see the average tipping fee for landfills is about $60 per ton. Why does it cost us $371 per ton??


I had a brief email discussion with Will Provost, a Management Analyst for the city and he thinks we recycle. He responded to me:

Thanks for your interest in this important topic. Yes, with the global recycling markets collapsing a couple years ago, a lot of jurisdictions are having trouble finding processors to accept their recycled plastic. In El Cerrito, we were able to switch contracts and find a new processor (Napa Recycling & Waste Services) that still accepts and recycles the plastics from our curbside program, including products like TetraPaks. However, whereas in the past the commingled recycling stream would have generated some revenue for the City, now the City is instead paying for these materials to be sorted and properly recycled. We’ve also had to limit what’s accepted in some cases. For example, we no longer accept plastic bags or plastic film. So in short, the plastics in El Cerrito are getting recycled, but the economics of recycling has drastically changed and the community is effectively subsidizing the recycling. Unfortunately, other communities around the country that are facing the same markets are choosing instead to send the plastics to the landfill or end their recycling programs.

Hope that helps. Longer term, the City is interested in moving forward with an Expanded Food Ware Ordinance to reduce the amount of single-use plastics generated in El Cerrito and ending up in our waste stream.


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