The Cost of Waste
The issue of plastic waste has been prevalent for years, with slow progress being made to target the problem. Most associate the continued use of virgin materials as opposed to recycled materials with a lack of social awareness, however, the role policies, regulations, and economics play in the large scheme of production seems to play a more prevalent role.
It's no secret that it costs money to recycle waste, so why is that cost not included in the purchase cost of packaged goods? A simple answer would be because recycling is not directly related to the production process of goods. The cost of recycling waste comes into play after the product has been consumed or used, and its packaging or components become thrown away waste. Therefore, recycling cost is considered a post-consumption cost that is not factored into the production cost of goods: an externality.
To further understand the depth of this issue, several factors as to why the cost of recycling waste is not included in the purchase price of goods should be analyzed.
Firstly, recycling is not standardized across different regions. The infrastructure for recycling is not equally developed due to insufficient funding, meaning that the cost of recycling waste can vary widely depending on where you live. “Recycling is a service that competes — and unsurprisingly often loses — for local funding that is also needed for schools, policing, et cetera,” says Stephanie Kersten-Johnston, director of circular ventures at The Recycling Partnership. Since the cost of recycling waste is not standardized, it is challenging to include it in the purchase price of goods.
The market price for recycled materials fluctuates depending on the supply and demand of the material. This means that the cost of recycling waste is dependent on the market price for the recycled material. Since the market price for recycled material is not stable, it is challenging to include the cost of recycling waste in the purchase price of goods.
There is a also lack of incentives for manufacturers to use recycled materials in their products because virgin materials are often cheaper. Not only is the lack of recycling incentive apparent in the manufacturing industry, but also in processing facilities where the cost to recycle materials outweighs the cost of discarding them as waste. In fact, “In 2017, Stamford, CT made $95,000 by selling recyclables; in 2018, it had to pay $700,000 to have them removed” according to the Columbia Climate School.
Lastly, many consumers are not willing to pay more for recycled products. If manufacturers were to include the cost of recycling waste in the purchase price of goods, the price of the product would increase. Many consumers are price-sensitive, and would not be willing to pay the extra cost for recycled products.
In conclusion, the cost of recycling waste is not included in the purchase price of goods because it is considered a post-consumption cost that is not directly related to the production process of goods. With a more in-depth evaluation of the way the whole system is shaped around a linear economic model promoting the disposal of waste instead of recycling efforts, it is evident that the system needs to change before companies and consumers can follow!