What are the challenges of reducing solid waste?

By: Jennifer Sellers

Problems with Reducing Solid Waste

If reducing our solid waste were as simple as just recycling or source reduction, our garbage problem would be more easily solved. Unfortunately, there are obstacles to these methods of solid waste reduction. Let's start with the one most likely to cause a setback: costs.

Recycling, while beneficial in solid waste reduction, is not cheap. Additional labor, transport and production go into recycling, costing cities and waste management companies money. As a result, recycled products often cost more to consumers. And companies that use recycled materials in product packaging must pay more as well -- either absorbing the cost or passing it along to the consumer in the price of its products.


There are also other incidental costs along the way for consumers. For example, the price of buying reusable grocery bags versus the free plastic bags you receive in the store. Or, the extra cost of buying bulk items for reduced packaging when standard-packaged items may be more budget friendly.

On the other hand, the reusing side of recycling can actually be cost-efficient. Just ask your Depression-era grandparents some of the tricks they used to make their money go farther in hard times, and the answers you'll get will sound a lot like reuse tips for solid waste reduction: reusing products for multiple purposes, extending the life of products you use and sharing goods with others. When times are difficult, reuse can actually help save you money. The flip side of this is that when many people start purchasing less, jobs can be lost.

Another area of concern when it comes to solid waste reduction is the possible increase in pollution created by recycling. Recycling generates pollution because more vehicles must be employed in collecting recyclables and transporting them. Then, additional pollution can be created by factories that recycle trash into raw materials. Of course landfills, where the trash might otherwise end up, can create pollution as well.

Reducing solid waste can lead to as many potential unintended consequences as managing it. Good can come from landfills in the form of "green" energy, and bad can come from recycling in the form of increased costs and pollution. Ultimately, you have to weigh the good and bad to find practices that you think are best for you and your community. Just keep in mind that as you take your time to decide, that Styrofoam cup you just threw away is settling in for the next several decades.