Waste Management: Recycling in Idaho
What is Recycling?
Recycling is the process of transforming waste materials into usable resources. Recycling is one of several options to manage wastes. Other options include eliminating or reducing the generation of waste or reusing an item prior to recycling.
Recycling is preferable to treatment and disposal because it helps conserve energy and reduce waste. Much less energy is needed to make recycled materials into new products than is needed with new, "virgin" raw materials. Recycling also helps conserve natural resources and prevent pollution. Manufacturing using recycled materials is usually much cleaner than manufacturing products from new resources. Recycling also helps avoid the costs of disposing of waste in landfills or incinerators and creates jobs in areas where reprocessing facilities are located.
How Does Recycling Work?
At its best, recycling is a five-stage, closed-loop process, beginning with the purchase of recycled or recyclable products. After the products are used, they are collected for recycling, prepared for shipping, shipped to market, and finally reprocessed into new products or materials. The new products are then available to be purchased and used to continue the cycle.
What Determines Which Products Can Be Recycled?
Like any other enterprise, recycling is a business. To survive, it must be profitable for those who own and run the business. Also, like any other business, recycling depends upon supply and demand. Often, supply and demand of recyclable materials are out-of-sync in today’s world economy, which results in volatile markets and unstable prices for recyclable materials.
Recycling in Idaho is limited by its geographic isolation from reprocessing facilities and markets. Recyclable materials must be shipped long distances, which can be very costly, especially for heavy materials like glass. Collection and transportation costs can outweigh the value of the recyclable materials.
Recycling in Idaho is also limited by the relatively low cost of disposal. In states where landfill space is limited and disposal costs are high, the economic incentive to recycle is strong because it is often cheaper than throwing products away. Traditionally, Idaho has benefited from ample landfill space, which has kept disposal costs low. As a result, it is often cheaper to dispose of products than to recycle them. During the 1990s, many smaller landfills were closed because of new, more stringent environmental standards developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Despite fewer landfills, disposal fees have remained low compared to neighboring states. As existing landfills fill up, however, it will be necessary to build new landfills, which are very expensive to construct. Higher disposal fees will be needed to cover the cost of building new landfills, which may tip the economic incentive to recycling and pollution prevention.
Who Is in Charge of Recycling in Idaho?
Recycling, like garbage collection in Idaho, is an optional service provided at the discretion of local governments or by private recycling companies. Although the state has no mandated waste diversion goal, pollution prevention and recycling are supported and encouraged through public education and outreach activities conducted by DEQ.