When I go to my New Jersey supermarket in 2022, there won’t be any single use plastic or paper bags. Just passed by the legislature and soon to be signed by the governor, the mandate will be implemented in approximately 18 months.
N.J. is the first state to ban both kinds of bags, polystyrene foam, and disposable food containers. The decision takes us to recycling costs and municipal finance.
When we started recycling 40 or so years ago, it was supposed to be win-win. You and I virtuously separated our glass, plastic, paper and metal, and our towns and cities were paid for all they collected.
Then during 2017, China told the WTO (World Trade Organization) that it will no longer take 24 kinds of waste. The decision was a whopper. They had become affluent enough to say no.
This is what China’s imported solid waste looked like in 2013:
Between March 2017 and March 2018, the market for mixed paper dove from $160 to $3 a ton. Whereas Franklin, New Hampshire had been getting $6 for each garbage bin, they found themselves paying $125 a ton. (Sending it all to a landfill would have been cheaper.). Similarly, New York City spent approximately $686 a ton for recyclables collection in 2019. Their non-paper recyclables cost $79.88 a ton for disposal in a landfill or recycling plant.
Whether looking at small New Hampshire town or a big NY city, the plight is the similar. Recycling is expensive.
Our Bottom Line: Municipal Fiscal Policy
City budgets depend on revenue from sales and income taxes, retail sales and real estate. Public transit depends on ridership. For some, property taxes matter most while others rely on sales taxes. Just one in ten rely on wage and income taxes.
Below, you can see the sources of “own-source” municipal revenue:
Because we are still dealing with projections, it makes sense to wait for the real municipal finance numbers. For now, just knowing the virus will impact each category of municipal revenue, we can ask if recycling policies will change.
And you can see why my own state decided to radically diminish its waste.
My Sources and More: New Jersey’s new bag policies relate to recycling costs and municipal finance. I began to get my facts from this Tierney/Husock recycling discussion and the Manhattan Institute study. From there, I returned to New Jersey’s new paper and plastic bag mandate. a Tierney NY Times Op-ed and this NY Times article on waste piles. Finally, Brookings, here and here, had the municipal finance side.