When the recycling movement was getting started, we don’t remember any suggestion that within just a few decades the strategy would be so successful that the program would go from making or saving money to becoming a line in an expense budget.
It didn’t seem in those days the world would ever reach the point there would be enough recyclable material to meet the demand for production of goods.
But recycling became a huge success. Society got into the habit of turning in recyclables, understanding it was delaying expenses in any number of ways — from landfill costs to manufacturing. It really is a testament to what we can do if we try.
It also shows how our planning could be more careful.
Now in Longview — and elsewhere across the United States — cities that aggressively entered into recycling programs are finding that it is no longer financially beneficial to do so. The Longview City Council, for instance, is wrestling with what to do to make up for the extra cost since markets for recyclables have dried up.
The council is considering three paths: Increasing fees for all customers to maintain the program, making it a “subscription” program that allocates costs only to those who want to stay in, or completely dropping the program.
We certainly hope members have the foresight not to discontinue the program, thus discarding all the hard work done to get it established. That would mean starting nearly from scratch if another recycling program was desired.
While it’s possible recycling won’t be profitable again in the very near future, it still provides benefits. Those include extending the life of landfills. And we believe the supply-demand pendulum one day will swing back to make recycling profitable again.
Either of the other two options is better but we would think that continuing the program as it is today is the best choice, though it is also the one that will cost more people the most money.
The city is suggesting that continuing the program as is would require a $2.50 increase on every utility bill. That’s not insubstantial, but is only $30 per year. For a fully functioning program, that’s not a bad price.
Plus, the fee need not stay that way. Within a few years, it is possible the program will begin to return some money. There’s no promise of that, but we know restarting the program after it has been shut down would be a costly venture, too.
It’s our belief that both City Council members and most Longview residents understand this. Yes, there’s a bit of a price tag. But the benefit is well worth the cost.