Recycling Reality Check: Addressing the Recycling Problems & How to Fix Them

keyKey Takeaways:
  • Worker’s safety, expensive services and the ban on import of recyclable materials are among the main problems of the recycling industry.
  • Developed countries like the US are currently facing the consequences of emerging recycling problems.
  • Streamlining the waste management system is the common solution for all recycling problems and to build a greener future.

“Earth doesn’t belong to man, rather man belongs to the Earth.” It is our primary responsibility to precisely take care of where we belong to. And what other than recycling can contribute to fulfilling this core and primary responsibility?

Even though recycling has been a savior for mankind for so long, the recycling rate is not up to the mark. As per the previous year report the recycling rate in the U.S. for the year 2018 was 9% with a consistent fall around 5% for the year 2021

Are we participating to our fullest in carrying out recycling practices or are we lacking somewhere? Yes, we are and the statistics presented here are evidence of what was said.
So, without any further delay, it’s time to explore the recycling problems that are being faced before we go through ways to fix them. After all, our aim is to ensure that what we recycle actually gets recycled.

7 Main Problems of the Recycling Industry

1. Lack of education about recycling practices

People are aware of the fact that recycling can play a major role in curbing the ongoing environmental strain due to excessive waste production. However, the effectiveness of the recycling programs will only be ensured when people will have an accurate and deep understanding of proper recycling practices. 

    • People will be least bothered when they do not know how to correctly dispose of waste and other recyclable material. They will consider recyclable and non-recyclables in one category without thinking of the consequences it will result in.
    • Another issue that can be faced due to a lack of education on recycling practices is carrying out incorrect recycling practices. Following wrong recycling procedures due to a lack of education and incomplete experience will end up costing incredibly high with a lower recycling rate and unutilized resources and recyclable materials. 
    • As per the survey done by Robinsons, an English fruit drink brand owned by Britvic, among 2000 adults reflected the below results:

    • 25% of the individuals do not feel educated about what can be thrown away and what cannot as well as what will be the environmental impact of it.
      42% of respondents break down cardboard boxes for pick-up in the recycling bin, at the same time 58% don’t even bother to see where cardboard should be thrown for recycling purposes, and they end up throwing it in the general trash bin. This resulted in a significant amount of waste being sent to landfills.
    • Not just this, 81% of the respondents considered food as difficult to recycle, along with aluminium foil (73 %), newspapers (65 %), and wine bottles (67 %) making their way into the general household waste bin.

Hence, it is very crucial to implement strategic marketing for your recycling business, making people aware of the recycling updates and properly educating them on how to effectively conduct recycling practices. This will not only increase the recycling rates but also help in reducing contamination.

2. Risk to worker’s safety

Workers in the recycling industry and waste management business are in direct contact with the potential risks involved when handling, sorting, and processing recyclable material. 

Risk to workers safety

When carrying out recycling operations, there are chances that worker’s safety, especially health can be compromised due to the associated risk factors mentioned below:

    • Workers may get severely injured in the absence of appropriate safety measures due to the repetitive moments of recycling systems occurring on a daily basis. Examples of repetitive movements occurring daily are bending, twisting, lifting, pulling, and pushing all of which can cause strain on the workers’ muscles and joints, leading to common workplace injuries. 
    • Another area where workers’ safety can come at risk is due to the respiratory complications involved. Workers can suffer from shortness of breath and various other breathing complications due to dust, debris, and other small hazardous particles involved in recycling plastic and metals. 
    • Apart from this, the recycling facility also handles various chemicals and toxic recycling materials such as oil, solvent, batteries, and other radioactive material that can pose significant risks to workers’ health when not disposed of properly.
    • Apart from repetitive moments, respiratory complications, and recycling facilities, workers may get cuts and lacerations when sorting materials, and loading and unloading the trucks of recyclable materials.

Because of all these health hazards involved and in the absence of dedicated efforts to secure workers, they may get diverted from getting involved in recycling processes. 

3. Inadequate funding

Even after knowing the fact that recycling will help balance the adverse environmental impacts caused by increased waste production, the recycling sector is still left with inadequate funds to install advanced recycling facilities. 

There are possible outcomes that can occur due to insufficient funds in the recycling sector. A few among them are:

    • Lack of advancement in recycling processes leads to significant environmental degradation. This is because the growing number of recyclable materials like plastic trash which includes single-use plastic bottles, food waste, valuable metals, paper, and electronic waste end up clogging into landfills or are incinerated instead of turning into recycled content. This contributes to exacerbating the already negative impact of waste on the environment.
    • Moreover, because of the outdated recycling processes, it may end up recyclers’ costs high in the long run, which can even hide the progress towards a sustainable future. 

The positive footprints recycling left on climate change and on the environment are not economically visible, which is the biggest reason why investments are lacking in this sector. People are unaware of the long-term benefits of recycling and its impact on the environment and hence not prioritizing the funding for this sector. 

The project drawdown estimates that between the years 2020 and 2050, the ongoing recycling activities will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.5 to 6.02 gigatons of carbon dioxide which is equivalent to taking over 1 billion cars off the streets for one year. This is a huge right and see when adequate funds are provided for recycling activities, what wonders it can end up doing.

4. Expensive recycling services

Expensive and advanced recycling services like separate trash bins for recyclable materials as well as accessible recycling centers are most needed in today’s populated era. To make your recycling system efficient, you should get assisted with such expensive yet adequate recycling services. 

However, there are cities, where such essential recycling services and the required government support are lacking resulting in below mentioned circumstances:

    • In the absence of adequate and expensive recycling services, there will be a lack of sufficient education and awareness about them. Resultantly, residents recycle improperly leading to environmental degradation, dangerous health hazards, unutilized resources, and waste of time, energy, and money.
    • Because of the expensive recycling services, individuals in low-income areas resist practicing the recycling process because of the costs associated with it. They may avoid recycling even if he or she wish to.
    • Without the proper infrastructure in place, residents may not have access to the resources they need to recycle correctly or safely. This can lead to improper recycling habits and an increase in waste production.

5. Risk of Contamination

Some people are still unaware of the fact that what is recyclable and what is not, probably because of a lack of education about recycling methods. This happens due to the arising risk of contamination:

    • When non-recyclable materials (liquids, plastic bags, plastic straws, eating utensils, yogurts, etc) are mistakenly placed into the wrong bin, or the dirty food containers get into the recycling bin, they can contaminate the entire recycling stream making it difficult to recycle the material that was actually recyclable. 
    • Non-recyclable materials are found in recycling bins where they are not turned into recycled material, instead get incinerated, go into the landfill, or dispose of themselves into the ocean, resulting in deploying natural resources
    • Further, contamination resists large batches of materials from getting recycled. Other materials can’t be processed in certain facilities. 

Together, we can get over these recycling problems for sure. But, if you are into the recycling business, then we recommend you to learn the ways to scale up your recycling business profit margin.

6. Lower market demand for recycled materials 

Already people were least interested in buying recycled materials as they were considering it to be secondhand. Amidst this, the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a decrease in oil prices and virgin plastic compared to post-consumer plastic waste. 

Resultantly, the demand for recycled plastic materials dropped, making it difficult for recycling programs to be financially sustainable. Additionally, the low market demand even demotivated businesses from investing in recycling infrastructure or using recycled materials in their products. 

However, because of the growing supply chain shortages, virgin plastic is becoming difficult to acquire, making its way for recycled content to rebound. Globally, various economic factors are supporting this trend towards increased demand for recycled materials, encouraging a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly approach to production and consumption.

7. China’s ban on the import of recyclable materials

Probably everyone knows China’s decision to ban the import of most plastics and other solid materials under 2018’s National Sword Policy. Before getting into the problems, let’s discuss why China was compelled to take this crucial step. 

Chinas ban on the import of recyclable materials

China’s manufacturing market was booming and so, to feed the manufacturing industry with such materials, China used to handle the recycling processes of almost half of the world’s discarded materials. 

In 2016, the United States exported 16M tons of plastic, paper, and metals to China. Out of which only 30% of material that was actually going to recycle got contaminated by the rest 70% non-recyclable waste. And this ended up polluting China’s countryside and oceans severely. Because of all these circumstances, China resisted the entry of recycling waste. 

Resultantly, recycling and non-recycling waste started piling up, impacting the United States recycling infrastructure and waste management crisis.

Do You Know?
The research study co authored by Jambeck in the year 2015 says that almost 1.3M to 1.5M metric tons of plastic waste flows into the ocean from China’s coastal sources each year. 

What Consequences the World is Facing Due to Recycling Problems?

China’s decision to ban the import of recycling materials kept the US in trouble. Due to this, recyclable materials started getting piled up in the US. Many recycling facilities struggled to find buyers for the surplus recyclable materials. The US faced a severe recycling crisis due to China’s ban. Some of them are stated here:

    • The materials that were previously accepted for recycling had to be sent to landfills or incinerated, which increased waste and greenhouse gas emissions adding up to the existing plastic pollution.
    • When China stopped entertaining the United State’s recyclable waste, the US knocked on the doors of Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand in 2018, shipping 68,00 containers of recycling waste.
    • Later, when these countries too imported the ban, China diverted its waste towards Cambodia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Laos, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Senegal. These were the countries with cheap labor and lax environmental rules.
    • Reports say that the US still ships 1M metric tons of plastic waste to foreign countries which are already overwhelmed by it.
    • In the year 2017, Stamford, CT earned $95,000 by selling recyclable materials. On the contrary in the year 2018, it had to pay $700,000 to have them removed. 
    • Bakersfield, CA used to earn $65 a ton from its recycling waste while in the year 2018, it had to pay $25 a ton to get rid of them.
    • The estimation made by the expert says that around 20 to 70 percent of plastic waste intended for recycling overseas is found unusable and is ultimately discarded. 
    • Another study says that the plastic waste exported to Southeast Asia was major in non-recycling nature resulting in contaminated water, crop death, respiratory illnesses due to toxic fumes from incineration, and organized crime.

How to Fix Them? – Streamline the Waste Management System Using Advanced Software

Recycling problems will not vanish within the blink of an eye. One may need patience and calm to get over the ongoing recycling tragedies. Even a small step at a time can make a huge difference. You can start with efficiently managing your waste management system with the help of software.

Get optimized waste pickups and drop-off routes on Upper 

It’s time to get over the time-taking and tedious waste management and recycling procedures by getting supported by recycling and waste management software like Upper. Automating the conventional procedures will ensure that you focus on another worthy task that will ultimately help you meet your end goals.

Here are some glimpses of how Upper can be your ideal software for managing the waste:

    • Helps you directly import the Excel or CSV file to efficiently plan the waste collection routes.
    • Optimizes multi-stop waste collection routes as per your preferences and requirements. 
    • Set priorities, customized service time, and time windows for meeting the client’s requirements and picking up at their convenience. 
    • Get aided with the proof of service feature to ensure timely pickups
    • Dispatches routes to your waste pickup teams directly on their mobile phone via SMS or emails. 
    • Carries out last-minute changes like re-assigning the routes to another driver in case of unavailability.
    • Sends automatic notifications to clients for ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival ) and waste collection status. 

Such routing features enabled on Upper Route Planner is enough to find the best routes for your waste collection trips. So, next time when your team is out for pickups or delivery, you know what to do – Yes, simply get the faster routes from Upper.

Let Upper Do the Heavy Lifting for You

Your efficient route plan needs no human intervention when you have a virtual assistant in the form of Upper. Start Generating faster waste pickup routes now.


The recycling problem refers to challenges and issues arising due to collecting, segregating, managing, and processing recyclable materials.

When non-recyclable waste starts piling up into landfills, it emits carbon dioxide, methane (as waste decomposes), volatile organic compounds, and various other hazardous pollutants into the environment and posing health risks to nearby communities.

Recycling problems occur due to a variety of factors, which may include inadequate waste management infrastructure, inappropriate disposal of waste, incomplete education and lack of awareness about recycling, and difficulty in separating recyclable materials from non-recyclable waste are the core reasons for the rising recycling problem.

The most widely recycled plastics are PET (polyethylene terephthalate), HDPE (high-density polyethylene), and LDPE (low-density polyethylene). On the contrary, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and PP (polystyrene) are among the least recyclable plastics contributing towards plastic production.


Considering all the recycling problems mentioned above, now we understood it’s time to precisely work towards mitigating them, which will ultimately help you streamline your waste management and recycling practices. 

Curbing recycling problems will ensure that you are efficiently serving the clients, working towards their betterment as well as towards the environment, and setting a benchmark for plastic recycling is a healthy practice to follow.

Author Bio
Rakesh Patel
Rakesh Patel

Rakesh Patel, author of two defining books on reverse geotagging, is a trusted authority in routing and logistics. His innovative solutions at Upper Route Planner have simplified logistics for businesses across the board. A thought leader in the field, Rakesh's insights are shaping the future of modern-day logistics, making him your go-to expert for all things route optimization. Read more.