Sorting is expensive; carefully sorting and cleaning plastics containing food scraps, labels and other waste to obtain the plastic quality needed for reprocessing into granules is even more expensive. With the price of recycled plastics falling, recycling is becoming a less profitable business. Because China no longer accepts used plastic and paper, communities face high collection bills, forcing them to end their programs or to burn or bury more waste. It is planned to modernize or rebuild paper mills in the next three to five years to meet the growing demand for products with recycled content.
By promoting the purchase of recyclable materials, recent efforts by private companies and public interest groups are deliberately challenging several myths about recycling. Szaky says that, while there is an important consumer market motivated by environmental concerns and consumption, for the recycling industry to really work, it must avoid relying on the most motivated consumers. Local recycling coordinators are responsible for establishing the collection and public education component of the program, while Bell pays for transportation to markets and ensures that recycled phone books are not deposited in landfills. They entered the market in such a hurry that the recycling symbol that manufacturers place on products (the “chasing arrows”) is now used indiscriminately.
Investing in recycled products also implies greater competition and will inevitably require innovation in design and the creation of new technologies that can further reduce production costs. Pratt Industries is the world's largest privately-held 100% recycled paper and packaging company, headquartered in Georgia. The government's recycling goals in the United States range from achieving a recycling rate of 25% to one of up to 60%. All of these economic problems lead to a situation where what people would like to see is not what they would actually see if they worked behind the scenes in the recycling industry.
For example, Conservatree Paper Company, a recycled paper distributor based in San Francisco, recently began a pilot project in 20 California school districts for the Downtown School Donation Program. Initially, the typical magazine run was too large for recycled paper suppliers to offer. In addition, more than half of the books published by Consumers Union are currently printed on recycled paper. To meet the initial consumer demand for recycled paper, manufacturers modernized old and outdated plants and modified existing processes for virgin raw material.
Even when it comes to controlling industry complaints about recycled content, companies win the most if they help coordinate, rather than hinder, the efforts of the EPA, environmental groups, the Federal Trade Commission and private companies. The lightening of containers, which means that they have less physical material and more complexity as a result of this design challenge, makes their recycling less cost-effective.