Recycling just doesn’t work as well as well-intentioned recyclers would think, due to a costly and cumbersome recycling process. “Nationwide the plastic recycling rate is only 8.5 percent,” says Judith Enck, a former EPA regional administrator and current president of Beyond Plastics, a national initiative based at Bennington College that seeks to end plastic pollution.
Very few plastics have a resale market, not all consumers recycle properly and not all municipalities have recycling programs. That means the vast majority of plastics winds up as waste. But the latest recycling numbers from Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency (UCCRA) suggest that the Hudson Valley county has finally cracked the code on making recycling successful, at least for now.
At a board meeting in June, UCCRA reported that they had already surpassed their target 2021 recycling revenue budget in just six months. The sale of recyclables to end users like plastic manufacturers had brought in $339,395, exceeding their annual projections by $13,395.
Typically a material recovery facility (MRF) like UCCRA has to hustle to get rid of recyclables. For this year alone, Ulster County budgeted $84,000 to dispose of the recyclables they can’t sell — which they typically do by paying a waste “broker” to act as a liaison to find the recyclables a home. It seems like a lot to spend yearly on a losing proposition, but counties across the country do it because of state and local recycling requirements.
Now, instead of spending money to get rid of their plastic recyclables, the agency in Ulster has some unexpected cash on hand. This sudden boom in plastics recycling reflects a national trend. Across the country, market pricing for curbside recycled plastic in July was up between 166 and 1200 percent from a year ago, depending on the type of plastic.