Recycling is a global industry may be largely dependent on rapid economic and consumer growth in economies like China. When we hit a global economic downturn, then recycling is no longer economically viable and we revert back to old practices. This is continuation of the argument, noted earlier (back in December) that recycling is not the answer we are looking for with regard to environmental stewardship, it’s a reduction in consumpti0n.
Jeffrey Yoskowitz has written about this phenomenon:
In a bad economy, it’s often the good environmental practices—using energy-efficient light bulbs, insulating homes, driving less, eating less meat—that end up prevailing, in part because they save people money. But that’s actually not true of recycling, which, for better or worse, is intimately tied to the health of international markets—and the willingness of countries like China to buy our recycled materials. Right now, demand for those materials has shriveled up, which has been a huge blow to recycling plants. “We were in the red by December,” says John Haas, the recycling coordinator of Ocean County, New Jersey—and it’s the same story throughout North America.
He also raises this point worth considering:
That fact alone raises a few alarming questions about the relationship between recycling and consumption. Is recycling wholly dependent on the reckless consumerism that is, in turn, responsible for many of our environmental problems today? Do, say, paper recycling and other eco-traditions here in the United States depend entirely on China’s continued breakneck growth?