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Infrastructure Holding Back Recycling Efforts

After decades of focusing on recycling, many Americans take pride in the progress that they’ve made. They’ve managed to transform a society that once routinely disposed of almost every used item by throwing it into landfills that were as unhealthy for the environment as they were unattractive to the eye. Somehow, without the benefit of a gargantuan federally-led equivalent to the Manhattan Project, Americans managed to turn those habits around and ended up making dramatic improvements in their recycling efforts.


And yet, despite all the progress, the numbers remain stubbornly disappointing. Take, for example, one of the first main recycling efforts in the nation: can and bottle recycling. Many states implemented deposit laws to encourage recycling and eliminate waste, requiring consumers to pay a per-bottle or can deposit fee that is only recovered when those cans are redeemed for recycling. It has been decades since those laws began to levy those fees, and yet sixty percent of those containers still never get recycled.


Clothing and other fabric products have fared no better. Many millions of pounds of otherwise recyclable fabric get tossed into garbage bins and landfills every single year. Sadly, most of that fabric ends up being contaminated by other refuse, leaving it unrecoverable by recyclers, and thus unusable. Many are clothes that could have been worn by the poor both at home and abroad, or dismantled and processed for reuse as rags, drapes, or even other clothing items.


Recycling experts who have studied the slow pace of current growth in recycling efforts have pointed to one weakness in the system: the lack of adequate infrastructure to make recycling as easy as possible for the average American. For while there are garbage bins readily available on street corners and other locations in most towns and cities, recycling containers are much less prevalent.


Part of that has to do with the expense associated with establishing infrastructure at the city level. Most municipalities lack the resources to adequately fund those types of projects on their own, and there are few localities containing companies that can do it for them. So consumers are left without access to the type of infrastructure they need to truly make the contribution needed to further advance recycling progress.


The solution to that infrastructure problem may be at hand, though. Nearly a dozen companies, including the retail giant Wal-Mart, have banded together in a cooperative effort known as the Closed Loop Fund. The Fund is designed to provide investments in various municipal locations that can help those cities develop the infrastructure that government and the citizens need to increase recycling efforts. Once those investments are repaid, the cities can then continue to benefit from the revenue that infrastructure can provide.


Even the proponents of the Closed Loop Fund acknowledge that theirs is not the only way to address the infrastructure problem. However, it is an important idea whose time has definitely come, and as such it can provide an invaluable service to cash-strapped cities that need access to capital so that they can enhance their recycling efforts.