The brutal economics of recycling

You are no doubt a dutiful recycler, doing the right thing and discarding bottles and paper into the correct bin. But what happens to the waste which you throw out to be recycled?

Let’s take an empty bottle of wine.  When it gets thrown out, the council picks it up in your recycling bin on the roadside every two weeks.  It picks up the bin and also picks up the bill for carrying it away.  The waste is then compacted in the truck to make it smaller, so more gets moved with each load that’s then carted to the materials recycling centre on Rodgers Road.

Glen Industries then takes up the burden, with its employees sorting glass into different colours. When there’s enough, it pays for a truck and trailer (a truck and dog) to take the load to a recycling company in Brisbane – and here’s where the economics get difficult.  

That costs Glen Industries $2,500 to $3,000 a load, according to Kylie Hawkins, general manager of Glen Industries,sometimes less than it gets back for the stuff.

Glen Industries workers sort goods to be recycled

Glen Industries workers sort goods to be recycled

“Glass is a tough market. If they reject the load in Brisbane, we are out of pocket, and we then have to pay for the glass to be dumped”, she said.

There are some products we take a hit on. It’s not worth it from a monetary stand-point but we do it from an environmental and social point of view. - Kylie Hawkins, Glen Industries

The Brisbane glass processors might reject a load from Glen Innes because different types and colours of glass are too mixed together.  

So is it worth Glen Industries being so committed to recycling?  “It is worth recycling glass because the alternative is to dump it in land-fill”, the Glen Industries manager said, “There are some products we take a hit on.  It’s not worth it from a monetary stand-point but we do it from an environmental and social point of view”.  Other materials like paper have a much easier market, and they don’t lose money on that.

A new scheme is set to come into operation in New South Wales, perhaps as soon as December. Under it, some bottles (beer but not wine) will have a deposit which buyers can get back if they take the empty bottle to a recycling centre run by Glen Industries. There had been a possibility of having special machines which would take in the bottle and then spit out the deposit (like they have in Germany) but the NSW scheme will have human sorters and receivers. 

Kylie Hawkins said that one of the advantages of this deposit scheme would be that it might persuade people not to throw empty bottles out of the car.

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