Mandatory Recycling Laws: Pros and Cons

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Though on a cursory look, the mandatory recycling laws and programs may seem to be an intrusion on the personal liberty of a citizen, they are meant for the larger interest of the society, besides keeping the environment free from pollution and the people

Mandatory Recycling Laws: Pros and Cons

No doubt global warming has reached alarming proportions prompting us to take expeditious steps to prevent it. Each country is trying its level best to conserve its limited energy resources and postpone their rapid exhaustion. ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ is one of the best formulas that guide us in the right direction.

Recycling is the process of re-using a given product beyond its actual or originally intended use or producing a new product from a recyclable material. In fact recycling involves all the three elements of energy conservation formula. It reduces the use of energy resources; paves the way for reusing a given product; converts a used product into a new product. Naturally, recycling has received a wider currency from the advanced western countries that consume more energy resources than other countries in the world.

Though the United States has a federal environmental agency that support recycling, it does not have a federal recycling law. Realizing the importance of recycling, various cities or states in US like Pittsburg, San Diego, Seattle, New York, Philadelphia, Connecticut, San Francisco, Gainesville, Florida and Honolulu have enacted their own mandatory recycling laws. A common reason that prompted these states to enact the mandatory recycling laws was that they had difficulties and constraints in land fillings and disposing wastes.

Mandatory Recycling Laws have programs by which consumers have to separate trash from the recyclable materials so that some or all recyclable materials are recovered for recycling rather than going to landfills. For example, the mandatory recycling laws of San Francisco provides that each resident should have separate dust bins in blue, green and black color meant for placing recyclable materials, composts and trash respectively. Thus in addition to recycling, composting has also been made compulsory in San Francisco. Many cities now have laws restricting the use of plastic bags for groceries and most use reuseable canvas bags.

Despite having a lofty ideal, mandatory recycling laws have got their own merits and demerits:


  • Mandatory Recycling Laws are meant for keeping the environment clean and ultimately to reduce the global warming. For example, the ultimate objective of mandatory recycling laws enforced by San Francisco is to become zero waste by 2020.
  • Mandatory Recycling Laws help to save money that is spent for disposing trash and other waste materials.
  • Mandatory Recycling Laws classify the waste materials into recyclable, compost and trash and the trash alone is incinerated or land filled. Hence, a lot of land filling work is avoided and land filling space is saved and thereby landfills remain vacant.
  • By implementing mandatory recycling laws, environment pollution and the volume of garbage is reduced.
  • A well run recycling program is cost-effective, incurring a cost ranging between $ 50 and $ 150 per ton and the cost of trash collection and disposal program is estimated at $ 70 to $ 200 per ton.
  • Mandatory Recycling Laws prevents green house gas emissions and so people will live in a cleaner atmosphere and environment.
  • People following mandatory recycling programs are less susceptible to diseases caused by unclean environment.
  • More and more mandatory recycling programs create more and more job opportunities for the community.
  • Mandatory Recycling Programs have specifically targeted against plastics, paper, glass, steel etc.
  1. Plastic bags and other products that cannot be destroyed are harmful to human beings, animals, birds and fishes. Recycling plastics not only creates new products but also keep them away from land fillings and thereby prevent injuring the animals and other living beings.
  2. The composts produced by the mandatory recycling programs in San Francisco is used in organic soil and sold for local farms and vineyards. At each home recycling food materials into compost can be used for gardens.
  3. Recycling glass prevents people from getting injured.
  4. Recycling steel creates a new product, besides decreasing the demand for new mining of iron ore and thereby a natural resource is saved.

However, Mandatory Recycling Laws have got their own disadvantages as follows:


  • US do not have a Federal Mandatory Recycling Law. Only a few states have enacted this law according to their own needs and environment. For example San Francisco, through its mandatory recycling program has made recycling as well as composting compulsory; whereas other states like Connecticut, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle have their own Mandatory Recycling Laws covering both business and residential establishments. States like Florida have Mandatory Recycling Laws covering only business establishments. Hence, there is no uniformity in the Mandatory Recycling Laws followed by the US States.
  • Some experts are of the opinion that Mandatory Recycling Programs are costly and in fact it costs more than sending waste materials to land fills. In New York, the recycling of some waste materials like glass and plastic was proved costly than sending them to land fills. Hence, they immediately stopped recycling such materials. Only in the long run, they could recover from such financial loss caused to the exchequer.
  • Mandatory Recycling Laws have stringent provisions against those who are not co-operating for the programs. They have provisions for levying fine and even denying the service to the consumers who do not comply with the programs. For example, San Francisco has stringent provisions in its Mandatory Recycling Law calling upon the citizens to comply with its provisions before 2011. Other wise, they may have to pay fines.
  • Mandatory Recycling Laws provide only short term benefits to few groups of people, politicians and public Relations consultants, environmental organizations and waste handling corporations’ as wrote by John Tierney in New York Times Magazine and ‘it divert money from genuine social and environmental problems.’
  • Mandatory Recycling Laws by reducing or cutting down the costs in disposing waste materials, drives away many people out of work.
  • People may have to pay additional taxes as levied by the concerned state or municipality for implementing the mandatory recycling laws and programs.
  • If Mandatory Recycling Laws are implemented strictly, it may even drive or prompt the business or residential establishments to disguise instead of complying with mandatory recycling programs.
  • Mandatory Recycling Laws have provisions for levying fines from the consumers on the pretext of increasing awareness. San Francisco has even enforced a moratorium on levying fines until 2011.There are other ways to promote awareness.
  • In the states, where the mandatory recycling laws or programs are in force and implemented, consumers do not co-operate voluntarily, but they are forced to co-operate under the threat of fine. It does not augur well for a great democratic country.   

More About Mandatory Recycling Laws

Having mandatory recycling laws is not very helpful if the public has to pay for it. In many cities and counties across the United States, the public has to pay an extra fee for recycling, and that is not very successful, telling people how to divide their trash.

For example, in Denver, Colorado, the trash pickup is free as is the recycling. All homes in Denver have two bins, a black one for trash and a purple one for recycling. And it is all free. This helps with recycling that makes people want to recycle.

In other counties around Denver and throughout the country, a homeowner or renter has to pay extra is they want a recycling bin, and most people do not want an extra fee every month.

Free recycling goes a long way towards having everyone recycle and can actually help cities and counties earn money with the recycling.

It has been found that when a city or county decides to start charging for recycling, the amount of recycled material drops dramatically. Very few people want to have to pay to sort their trash and put it in a separate bin, knowing the city will make more money on the recycling.

Even though on a cursory look, the mandatory recycling laws and programs may seem to be an intrusion on the personal liberty of a citizen, they are meant for the larger interest of the society, besides keeping the environment free from pollution and the people, hale and healthy.


1.Revised ordinances of Honolulu



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