Roadside recycling can offset greenhouse gas emissions from trash destined for landfills, says a new study that encourages towns and cities to continue offering recycling services to meet their climate goals.
The study authors took a deep dive into the economic and environmental value of community recycling efforts and compared it to the value of other climate change mitigation practices. They concluded that recycling offers a return on investment comparable to or better than environmentally friendly strategies such as transitioning to electric vehicles or purchasing green energy, which is electricity from clean, renewable energy sources.
“Eliminating recycling waste is one of the easiest opportunities for communities and citizens to help reduce the impact of climate change and reduce our demands on natural resources,” said Timothy Townsend, a professor of environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida and one of the study authors. Authors. “Recycling will not solve the problem on its own, but it is part of the puzzle.”
Cities and towns across the country have canceled or scaled back recycling programs due to rising costs. Recent restrictions on recyclables collected by major international markets have contributed to the cost increase, according to the study, published today in Nature sustainability.
Townsend and Malak Anshasi, of Florida Polytechnic University, set out to assess how much more expensive recycling is compared to just garbage collection and see if the resale value of the recyclables is enough at any time to pay the program for itself. They also analyzed the role that residential recycling plays in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving natural resources.
When recycling markets were most lucrative in 2011, recycling costs in the United States were less than $3 per year per household. From 2018 through 2020, stricter restrictions were in place and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted markets, the cost of recycling ranged from $34 to $42. The study confirms that even with higher costs, the investment offsets greenhouse gas emissions from non-recycled waste buried in landfills.
Townsend and Anshasi say that if local governments restructure their recycling programs to target materials with the largest market value and highest carbon offset potential, recycling can cost itself and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They specify higher value materials such as newspapers, cardboard, aluminum and steel cans, and HDPE and PET plastic bottles.
“Recycling is a public service that local governments provide to their residents, just like providing water, sanitation and roads,” says Townsend. “It’s a service that does have a cost, but it always does. I would argue that it doesn’t cost that much when compared to other services we’re paying for, and when the markets are good, you’re hardly paying anything.”
The researchers also suggest that state and local governments can implement policies to help reduce the cost burden of recycling, such as setting minimum amounts of recyclables that manufacturers must use in packaging or products and placing some responsibility for recycling costs on manufacturers. .
“If we collectively learn how to recycle better, we can reduce costs significantly to break even,” says Townsend. “From an environmental perspective, this is a good return on your investment.”
Timothy Townsend, The Hidden Economic and Environmental Costs of Curbside Recycling Disposal, Nature sustainability (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-023-01122-8. www.nature.com/articles/s41893-023-01122-8
the quote(2023, May 22) Study Shows Communities Should Reconsider Moving Away From Curbside Recycling, Retrieved May 22, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-communities-reconsider-curbside-recycling .html
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