I recently came across a Penn and Teller video on YouTube that attempted to debunk recycling. After ten minutes I pretty much gave up on any hopes of the two comedians taking a Mythbusters-type approach to exploring recycling. While science is not exactly their thing, the pair did say a few things that had hints of truth behind them (well one of them said things; after all these years I can happily admit I still don't know which one is which). One of Penn and Teller's bits of truthiness had to do with the amount of energy required in the transportation of recycling.
While there may be inefficiencies in the recycling loop of some materials, that doesn't mean companies can't innovate. In fact, can't eliminating inefficiencies be a key ingredient to growth and success in business? A paper company in Chicago thinks so...
FutureMark Paper, the only company in North America producing recycled coated mechanical printing paper with up to 100% recycled content, built its plant just 12 miles from downtown Chicago, one of the top centers of magazine printing in the country. Instead of allowing recycled waste paper to be sent off to faraway mills, FutureMark harvests their raw material right there, in an "urban forest," of sorts.
And we're not talking a boutique recycling operation FutureMark has diverted 1.5 billion pounds of waste paper away from landfills since it began. By using waste paper to produce instead of virgin raw materials to make its high grade mechanical paper, FutureMark says it "saves 2 million trees annually."
What FutureMark is doing is no doubt good for their triple bottom line. But taken in a larger context, the model of moving the plants that recycle and repurpose source material closer to the source itself is one that could be adapted to fit other recycling loops, not just paper. However, doing so is not as easy as it sounds. Economies of scale in recycling usually require that materials be transported long distances from the source to the plants that clean, sort, recondition and purpose the materials.
And until it becomes more expensive to transport post-consumer recycled material away from the "urban forests" — because of rising fuel costs or tougher emissions standards — the practice of shipping it across the country and around the world will still be commonplace.