Recycling in the United States of America. Are You Serious?

Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

Have you ever been directly involved in recycling? Not just collecting piles of recyclables and delivering them to a recycler but seeing what they actually do with it.

About ten years ago, I lived in a Northern Plains city and used a rechargeable electric lawn mower for our modest city lot. Eventually, the batteries ceased recharging properly and we needed to replace them. The mower was no longer in production and batteries were nearly impossible to get even at a very high price. I decided to scrap the mower and get one that used a cord.

I found that the mower contained two sealed lead-acid batteries that looked like motorcycle batteries but with a special case to fit the mower. I took the batteries to the recycling center at the edge of town. Waited in line for about twenty minutes and presented the batteries when I reached the window. The attendant sneered at me. He grudgingly accepted the batteries but told me that he doesn’t want to see any more of them. He said they weren’t worth the trouble and warned me to not return.

That’s how they handled it in a city of over 125,000. Next time, I guess I’ll just toss the batteries in the trash.

The Bigger Picture

I’ve also been told by many friends across the country that they do not participate in recycling offered by their local trash service. It’s not that they don’t want to be responsible but that they have seen the bottles, plastic, corrugate, and even metal is dumped right in with the regular wet garbage when the truck picks it up. And the services have the audacity to charge for recycling.

How many products have symbols for recycling because of materials inside? Computers, cell phones, appliances . . . the list is endless.

Sure, some waste systems actually recycle but I wonder what the percentage is. I noticed years ago that Chicago, for example, installed hundred and perhaps thousands of park benches made from recycled pop bottles. I believe that was true. I have purchased many items in packaging that is either 100% or at least several percent made from recycled material.

Do you think I’m exaggerating about the sloppy or outright rip-off recycling systems? Here is a quote from Green Matters and the EPA.

According to the EPA, Americans generate more than 267 million tons of solid waste every year. In 2017, only 94.2 million tons of that waste was either recycled or composted. That’s only about 35 percent of the total amount, and when you take into account that only 8 percent of discarded plastics were recycled that year, things start to look more unsettling.

I now live in a much smaller city in the Midwest. We have a once-per-year pickup of toxic stuff like paints and batteries. But if you have tires and large things like that, it’s your problem. Also, the trash pickup companies appear to mix most, if not all, of the recyclables right into the regular trash.


I look forward to the United States becoming serious about recycling. I know that some cities and counties do truly recycle, and I enjoy seeing their example. I am no longer required to live near my employer and am planning to move. Maybe my next move will be to a city that recycles for real. I am keeping it in mind as I prepare.




Writer, inventor, maker. Member of startup. Applied physics, electronics, microbiology.

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Mark Senninger

Mark Senninger

Writer, inventor, maker. Member of startup. Applied physics, electronics, microbiology.

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