Recycling is cheaper than not recycling

After seeing the clear relationship between GDP and waste, let’s see the economic balance in recycling or not. Municipalities, on the one hand, receive income from recycled waste, while on the other, they are paying taxes for waste that is not adequately segregated, the rejection fraction that ends up in incinerators or landfills.

The waste that is deposited in the rejection fraction container, which is usually gray, not only does not provide any income but actually causes additional costs. As in many European countries, in Catalonia, tax has to be paid on waste that goes for incineration and to landfill: €9/ton for incineration and €19/ton in the case of landfill (2015).

Also, it’s estimated that waste and materials sent annually to European landfills could have a total commercial value of around[1] €5,250 M.

Tax has to be paid on non-recycled waste from the gray container that ends up in incinerators and landfills

One of the main revenues related to municipal waste comes from the sale of paper and cardboard from the blue container. In most municipalities, there are agreements with guilds of recovery associations that buy this material in exchange for financial compensation. It should be noted that the process is very transparent, well-organized and traceable.

The more the recycling, the more the revenue generated for town councils and, at the same time, the lower the expenses

Collection and Recovery System or CRS (non-profit entities, although managed by large production companies) also generate income for the municipalities. According to the law, waste producers have to take responsibility for the waste generated by their commercial activity, in line with the polluter pays principle, which in the waste sector is also called the extended responsibility of the producer. In an orderly, transparent and efficient manner, these producers come to an agreement with the municipalities to take care of waste collection in exchange for economic income. In other words, they transfer their responsibility in exchange for payment for the services rendered.

In any case, don’t forget that these revenues are generally provided by the customers or citizens who buy these products, as companies have included the tax incurred for each piece of packaging that they put on the market in the final price. Among these CRS, the following are worth highlighting: Ecoembes (for plastic, metal, and mixed containers), Ecovidrio (glass containers), Ecopilas (batteries and accumulators), Ambilamp (bulbs and fluorescents), OFIRAEE (electrical and electronic equipment from the Clean Points), SIGRE (medicines) and Signus (tires). The income that these companies contribute to the municipalities varies, in the sense that the more the recycling, the more the income. I’d like to add that many of these revenues –controlled and supplied by the CRS– do not cover the costs involved in the collection of waste.

In summary, one could say that the waste that goes into the recycling containers does not imply a direct cost to the citizen and also generates income for the municipalities which is proportional to the tons of waste recycled. In contrast, non-recycled waste that ends up in landfills or incinerators not only does not produce an income but its treatment is taxed

The cost of mixed waste treatment is more expensive than the cost of recycled waste treatment

The treatment of waste from the rejected or mixed fraction costs about €89/ton,[2] while if this is deposited into the brown container to make compost, it only costs €51/ton. The treatment of waste from paper, packaging and glass containers implies no cost to the city councils –or to the citizens – since the companies pay for it through the mentioned CRS.

Want to know more?

  The book Stop garbage. The truth about recycling, Alex Pascual, February 2019

► Campaign of the Udaltalde City Council: “Why throw money away?”

i CRS websites:

[1]. “Being wise with waste: the EU’s approach to waste management,” European Commission.

[2]. Public price for the urban waste treatment service for elimination in the Provincial Council of Bizkaia, Udaltalde City Council Study

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