The social and economic benefits of recycling go far beyond its value on the market.

Recycling is a core ingredient of solid waste management programs across Maine.

Residents and businesses recycle paper, glass, metals, plastic and other materials and do so often without thinking twice. Recycling is becoming ingrained in our habits, which is good because recycling not only reduces the amount of trash we need to dispose, recyclables are needed by industry for the production of new products.

You may have heard the value of recyclables has dropped. That’s right. Like many other parts of our economy, prices for recyclables have fallen, but that doesn’t mean that the recycling industry is disappearing.

Paper, plastic, metals and glass are woven into the fabric of our everyday life. We depend on paper for communicating the news, for education, as well as for sending or storing important legal, promotional and personal information. Paper, plastic and cardboard are used to package the goods we buy. Our municipal recycling programs collect these materials because factories rely upon them for raw materials in their processes.

Recycling works! Every day we use things made from recycled materials. What’s new is that the variety and abundance of these products is increasing rapidly as innovative manufacturers race to take advantage of the trend to be “green.” Today’s recycled goods include furniture, tools, auto parts, textiles, toys, electronics and much more. Did you know that you can buy a snowboard or kayak made with recycled materials? That’s a direct result of the growing preference for products that help our planet. Recycling old into new makes sense. Why waste resources when you can recycle, especially since recycling saves water and energy and reduces pollution.

Still, municipal managers may be concerned about today’s challenges in the recyclables ‘commodities’ market. Yes, recyclables are commodities and are subject to variations in their economic value. This past year we’ve seen historic highs followed by historic lows. However, if we abandon our municipal recycling programs because of this change in value, we’ll need funds to manage those recyclables as waste. And we may even have regrets when the market rebounds. Meanwhile, disposal costs range from $60 to $100 per ton. With rational thinking prevailing, recycling still makes sense.

Rob Stalford, solid waste superintendent at Lewiston Public Works, attests, “Each ton of paper/plastic/metal which is not placed in the trash is a ton the city does not have to pay to dispose of. Many view this as a true ‘win-win’ for citizens and the environment.” Stalford has identified a primary reason to keep recycling programs going – the cost and benefits of recycling are preferable to cost of disposal.

Sid Hazelton, assistant director at Auburn Public Works, agreed, adding that citizens would benefit from more education around waste management issues and recycling. “Many of our residents don’t realize that recycling keeps costs down. Since it’s not possible for MMWAC (the disposal site used by the city) to store more than several days’ worth of fuel (trash), there are times when it sends its surplus to landfills. This is at an additional cost to the communities it serves. Recycling is one key way to reduce our surplus tons.”

Equally important, recycling helps extend the capacity of our existing disposal facilities and operating systems, thus reducing the need for new ones. Lewiston, Auburn and nearby municipalities have made considerable investments in recycling and disposal infra-structure so their communities could minimize disposal expenses. Continued participation helps maintain these systems during economic low points.

Finally, there is the reality that as we sustain a steady flow of recyclables to markets, we also help protect the jobs of Mainers working in the recycling industry and the mills they supply.

So, to play on an old phrase, “keep those newspapers, boxes, bottles and cans coming.” Be assured that as a vital strategy in our overall solid waste management program, recycling is here to stay.

Jetta Antonakos is a recycling planner for the Maine State Planning Office. She lives in Old Orchard Beach.

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