Recycling provides a perfect example of the teamwork involved in successful resource management. Households and businesses do their part to separate recyclable materials from their trash, and we do our part to collect, sort, and process them into high-quality raw materials for manufacturers to use in new products. Recycling works best when we all play our parts well.
Our Zero-Sort® Recycling solution continues to thrive and grow. Our customers, with businesses to manage and households to run, appreciate the simplicity and convenience of putting all of their recyclables into a single bin. It helps them to recycle more materials more often. We see this across many types of customers. Municipalities that switch to Zero-Sort Recycling see a rise in recycling rates and a drop in disposal quantities. For example, after adopting Zero-Sort Recycling, the City of Boston increased its recycling rate from 9% to 20%. Businesses and institutions see similar benefits. A great example is Dartmouth College, which increased its recycling capture by 50% in part by switching to Zero-Sort Recycling.
We are extremely proud of our customers' success stories in increasing their recycling rates. And for us, this is just where the story begins. Zero-Sort Recycling is about much more than just maximizing the amount of material entering our customers' recycling bins. The rest of the Zero-Sort Recycling story is where we safely and efficiently sort and process these recyclables into high quality raw materials and deliver them to manufacturers throughout North America and the world.
At our six Zero-Sort Recycling facilities throughout the northeast, we take mixed recyclables and sort them by material type.
Recycling is a cornerstone of sustainability. It benefits the planet twice: first by reducing waste disposal and second by alleviating pressure on natural resources. When someone wants to improve the environmental impact of their business or household, recycling is often the first step they take.
Still, society is not recycling enough. Diversion rates in the United States have stagnated, and disposal audits consistently show large percentages of recyclables in the trash. Some blame society's laziness or apathy, but the problem is not solely cultural; it is also economic. The business model of recycling remains overly reliant on volatile commodity markets and is sorely in need of transformation.
At first glance, recycling has an enticing business model, in which recyclers get paid twice for the material they collect. Generators pay to have stuff taken away and then manufacturers pay to purchase that same stuff. Unfortunately, however, these revenues don't reliably outweigh the significant costs of recyclables collection and processing infrastructure.
The downside of the recycling business model is that it is exposed to global commodity markets, which are volatile. Several times in recent history, recycling revenues have declined below the levels required to recoup collection and processing costs and investments. In short, recycling periodically becomes unprofitable and does not deliver an appropriate return. This situation deters much-needed further investment in recycling infrastructure.
The fundamental - and ironic - problem is that, despite the high social and environmental value that we place on recycling, society has saddled it with the unrealistic expectation that it should be free. Recycling is not free. Collecting and processing recyclables requires significant up-front investments and ongoing operational costs. It requires a vast new physical infrastructure. No one expected highway networks or indoor plumbing to be free; why do we think differently about recycling? The unrealistic expectation that recycling should be free effectively stacks the deck against recycling, and it is time for society to address this problem head on.
We believe that the "recycling is free" myth has prevented society from fully unlocking the power of markets to support a thriving and resilient recycling industry. The six strategies presented below will begin to change this. Over the coming months and years, Casella will work with its many partners to imagine and build a new recycling industry that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.
The Average Commodity Revenue (ACR) per ton is what we are paid for our sorted and processed recycled commodities. Fluctuations and declines in the ACR disrupt and deter further recycling investments.