Can Recycling Help Your City’s Bottom Line?

At Green Mountain Energy, we believe that renewable energy is only one piece of the environmental puzzle. Sustainable habits in other walks of life, including your choice of household products, how you commute and even the food you buy, can also go a long way towards protecting the planet.

We all know choosing not to consume new materials by forgoing, reducing or reusing purchases is step #1 in living sustainability. A second easy step is recycling, which allows people to divert waste from landfills and give materials new life. Many recycling programs nationwide are thriving due to the introduction of single-stream programs, which enable consumers to comingle their recyclable materials like paper, plastic, glass and aluminum into a single bin. (Don’t live in a place with a recycling program like this? Check for local recycling options.)

It’s easy to tout the environmental benefits of recycling, but the economics are also worth considering.

Monetary Benefits of Recycling

In a panel at the 2014 SXSW Eco Conference, Phil Bresee, the Recycling Director for the City of Philadelphia, said Philadelphia saw $8-$15 million in fiscal benefits from recycling in the last five years. Aluminum can be resold as scrap metal, and there is a commodity market for other common recycled materials, such as cardboard, paper and plastic. For example, recycling your plastic milk jugs actually allows for the creation of ‘new’ materials such as flower pots, trash cans, traffic barrier cones, detergent bottles and more. See what your recycled goods turn into here. Avoiding disposal costs associated with using landfills also factors into the equation.

Per the Container Recycling Institute (CRI), it’s estimated that the 36 billion aluminum cans that were tossed in landfills in 2012 had a scrap value of more than $600 million. Imagine if those were recycled instead!

Balancing Recycling Economics with Conservation

There’s a reason “recycle” is the third part of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra.

Did you know, out of the 50 billion bottles of water being bought each year, 80% end up in a landfill, even though recycling programs exist? You can be part of the solution, thanks to reusable containers. The less material you send to the landfill or recycling plant, the fewer carbon emissions will result from the trucks that transport the items. Think about composting your food waste, too.

It’s also important to recognize that recycling is not a guaranteed path to riches for cities and municipalities. This Forbes article does a good job outlining how changing market conditions can impact the economic viability of recycling programs.

Does your city have a recycling plan? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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