Recycling does cost more on the surface than trash disposal in many parts of the United States, where landfill space is currently plentiful and tipping fees (per-ton charges for disposing of trash in landfills) are low. That is certainly the case here in Indiana.
Consider the steps in trash collection and disposal:
- Trash is collected by the hauler
- It is transported to the landfill (either directly or through a transfer station)
- It gets dumped in, smashed flat, and covered with dirt.
Then consider the steps in recycling collection and marketing:
- Recyclables are collected by the recycler. They may be sorted as they go into the truck, or
- They go to a materials recovery facility, where they are sorted by material (plastic, aluminum, etc.) and contaminants are removed.
- Each material is prepared for shipping (often compressed into big bundles called bales)
- Each material is shipped to whoever has purchased that load.
Many recycled materials have market value, and the revenues help support recycling programs that are able to process and market their own materials.
Recycling is about more than saving the trees. It’s about conserving all of our natural resources and reusing manufacturing inputs that have definite value. The production of new steel, for instance, almost always requires the input of recycled steel. It’s also about saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using what we already have instead of extracting the fresh stuff from mines / trees / whatever.
The US EPA has an interesting calculator called WARM (WAste Reduction Model) that takes into consideration a number of factors, and shows the environmental benefits/impacts of different waste management methods:
And I have to add that it is also about devoting as little of our land to final disposal of trash as possible. Why use it up with trash? Landfills are very expensive to build, and very difficult to site - turns out quite a few people don’t want one near their homes. Waste to energy facilities come with their own efficiency and environmental issues, and also aren’t terribly popular with citizens.
As to redemption centers not accepting crushed cans - I really think it must be an identification issue. Most recyclers around here (no deposit in Indiana) ask people to crush their cans to save space in the recycling trucks and recycling drop-off bins.