When Do Throw-Aways Become Recyclables?

Should stewardship over such things as the environment or public health and safety be defining factors as to what can or cannot be considered recyclables? I think so, but I am not so sure that it would pass today’s reality check. At present, it looks to me as if throw-aways become recyclables whenever we’re able to ship them anywhere but to a landfill, regardless of how they’re going to be managed or where they’re going to end up.While stewardship is a guiding principle behind the majority of waste management activities, still there are those who seem content to turn a blind eye to the fate of recyclables bound for foreign shores because it’s a quick, easy, and profitable way to meet recycling goals and/or mandates.

Whether spawned by ignorance, inattention, bureaucratic zeal, or greed, the damage wrought by the actions of a few brings into question the wisdom of tying the supposed success of our recyclables programs to outsourcing. For one thing, even where legitimate overseas markets exist, they can evaporate in the blink of an eye, as is clearly the case at the moment where cargos en route to Asia are no longer worth the cost of offloading them. Of greater concern is the fate of materials bound for destinations beyond the reach of acceptable oversight.

In our desire to drive recycling numbers ever higher, have we lost sight of what the purpose of the waste management hierarchy was, is, or should be? No one can object to calling materials diverted from the wastestream “recyclables” where onshore processing capability and markets exist and where proper processing safeguards and oversight are in place, but once beyond our regulatory reach, what’s to differentiate them from the throw-aways they were when they entered the wastestream?

I question whether diversion without adequate oversight is truly recycling, and this leads me to wonder why sequestration of materials awaiting processing and development of true recycling markets shouldn’t be made a part of the waste management hierarchy?

I’d appreciate your thoughts on this, please.

Source: MSW Management Magazine – Editor Post by John Trotti

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