As millions of holiday deliveries head to doorsteps around the country, it’s becoming clear that some of this year’s gift boxes may not necessarily become next year’s gift boxes.
This holiday season collides with what has become known as the great recycling crisis. Earlier this year, China, which for years has been America’s go-to nation for processing recyclables into new boxes, started rejecting all but the cleanest, purest loads.
China’s decision left recyclers without a market, causing recyclables to pile up and prices to plummet. Their value fell by about half from pre-crisis levels, making it much more expensive to recycle glass, plastic and paper, according to Waste Management, the trash-hauling giant that bills itself as the nation’s largest residential recycler.
“The economics aren’t in our favor anymore,” said Brandon Wright, spokesman for the National Waste and Recycling Association.
The shift doesn’t bode well for the future of recycling. After years of conditioning Americans to throw all their reusable containers and paper in bins, cities across the U.S. are now imposing higher collection fees, eliminating items they are willing to pick up, or in a few cases, weighing whether to curtail recycling altogether.
It’s isn’t good news for the environment. Roughly 35 percent of the U.S.’ total waste is diverted to recycling from the overall solid waste stream. That’s millions of tons of materials that can be reused rather than having to use virgin materials. It also saves on the energy and effort required to make new items from scratch.
At holiday time, recycling bins can overflow with mountains of leftover packaging, not to mention soft-drink cans and New Year’s champagne bottles. UPS alone forecasts its crews will deliver 800 million packages this season, up from 762 million at the same time last year. Add another 400 million or so for FedEx if its total matches last year’s volume.
The online retailing revolution — and home delivery — have forced big changes in recycling. More cardboard boxes now go to homes rather than businesses, complicating pickup.
Normally, discarded holiday gift boxes and other recyclables would be put out for recycling in tiny Bosque Farms, New Mexico. But this year, the enclave’s private trash hauler is no longer accepting recyclables because it’s too costly.