We’ve seen the front lines in the Capitol and State Houses, a quiet but far-reaching war against plastic. everything is included. All of this was specifically spelled out in Senate bills introduced last year by Democrats including Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Senators Dick Durbin (Illinois), and Rep. Richard Blumenthal. (Connecticut) 7 others. Both the 2020 and 2021 Move Away from Plastic Pollution Acts will impose recyclable or compostable obligations on the packaging industry, reaching 65% by 2035.
From Maine to New York to Colorado, various variations on the theme have been proposed, including industry fees to subsidize recycling capacity. In California, one version of his “extended producer responsibility” law was adopted. The state will force the industry to pay $500 million annually (2027-2037) to producer responsibility organizations, meet stringent recycling targets, and invest in a nonexistent plastic recycling industry. i promise.
This is another version of legislators who imagine that, like environmental spirits, they can evoke the existence of non-existent industries. It is different from the eco dream of net zero emissions and carbon capture. However, the obsession with reusing plastics in the so-called “circular economy” makes much more sense for environmental, economic and national security reasons, and the target of recycling for which there is a functioning market, i.e. It is made worse by overlooking electronic devices such as smartphones. .
There is no doubt that plastic pollution can be a problem on land and in the sea. But it would be much better to send plastic waste to America’s abundant landfills. It is much cheaper to make new plastic than to improve existing stock. “Virgin plastic” is made from the by-products of oil and gas refining that occur anyway and is of higher quality. The market tends to reward cheaper and better products.
Even the creators of the California bill admit that “the cost of recycling has outpaced the disposal value of the plastic material, so the market for plastic packaging previously considered recyclable has been lost.” That is why the plastic recycling industry needs mandates and subsidies. In fact, local governments that send out special trucks to collect plastic are subsidizing deficit proposals. Ever since China closed America’s plastic borders in 2017 in what it calls “National Sword Operation,” it makes economic sense for cities to send plastic to landfills.
Think of it this way. If the cost of virgin plastic rises, the plastic recycling industry will undoubtedly come to life. Without such a price signal, recycling would require some kind of subsidy to discourage the use of products that sponsors of California law actually believe are “harmful to human health.”
But progressives are targeting plastics, giving a free pass to materials that actually have market value and are commonly dumped in trash or landfills: smartphones and other electronic devices. The so-called “e-waste” is literally a gold mine not available to local governments. Smartphones and other devices contain highly sought-after platinum, gold, silver, and rare earth minerals.
A February 2020 analysis of the e-waste stream (Waste Management journal) found that electronic devices routinely sent to landfills contained 56 elements. These include “14 rare earth elements, 6 platinum group metals, 20 important metals, and 16 other elements, including some precious metals.” The study also found that one kilogram of mixed e-waste (hard drives, cell phones, computers, etc., segregated from typical municipal waste streams) is worth $168. A similar amount of hard drive resources when isolated for recovery is valued at $454. Such material must not only be of value, but must also have been sourced from an unfriendly country (such as China) or a conflict zone (Democratic Republic of the Congo).
No subsidies are required to recycle e-waste. Local governments only need to collect it separately and contract people to reuse it. This is not eco-fantasy. As one industry insider said: these metals. Online advertising promises “best dollar” for such things.
The Federal Department of Energy has even suggested that a new generation of incinerators could recover such metals by processing its ash. doing.
When it comes to recycling, plastic may seem like an obvious target. But any product that has a market, including paper and aluminum, has a way of finding a market. It’s time to stop the unwinnable battle of plastic recycling. Start mining recycled gold instead.
Howard Fusock is American Enterprise Institute Author of the paper “Municipal Recycling and Electronic Waste: An Environmental and Financial Opportunity”.