Future of Recycling 2020

Listen to The Erie County Environmental Management Council sponsored recycling messages as heard on WBFO:


Reduce Your Impact

The market for reuse of recycled materials has destabilized, in large part, due to changes in policies in China and the quality of materials produced through “single-stream recycling”.  The benefits of putting all recyclable materials in a single bin include higher recycling rates, more materials in the bin, and lower collection and transportation costs when compared to multiple streams. 

As detailed in the article in Fivethirtyeight, the problem is that the costs of collecting and sorting materials have risen sharply with some of the cost related to unrecyclable recyclables.  On average, about 25 percent of the material we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association.   Contamination includes materials that are not accepted by the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and food and beverage containers that still contain liquids and solids.


Right now there is decreasing demand for currently accepted materials, lower prices for materials, new restrictions on what items can be recycled and requirements for a cleaner recycling stream.  Consequences include higher fees for managing recycling and more restrictions on acceptable items for curbside programs.  These costs and new requirements and restrictions impact municipalities as they contract for ongoing trash and recycling services.


It is expected that markets for these materials will rebound at different rates depending on the manufacturing strength of the industries that use the recyclables as feed stock for their processes. 


Erie County communities are responding by leading education and outreach to explain the changes to residents while encouraging more recycling of the right things with less contamination.  These activities will be supported by:

    • Focusing on education & outreach to reduce contamination.
    • Developing a countywide standard visual menu and presentation of what goes curbside, drop-off, or trash bin.
    • Promote statewide campaigns targeting contamination including #RecycleRightNY.
    • Give curbside feedback to residents about contamination in their recycling bin through “Oops Tag” pilot programs.
    • Find a new place for more glass possibly by expanding use of bottle bill returnables to include wine and liquor bottles.

The above is just a brief overview of the issues related to the recycling markets and how it’s impacting our municipalities.  If you have questions or are interested in getting more involved, here’s what you can do:


Email your questions at recycle@erie.gov

Or sign up to learn more

Or take a look at the proposed NEST and NWSWMB Solid Waste Management Plans