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
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.