Is Recycling Cheaper Than Landfill? (With Cost Comparison)

Savanna Stanfield

Part of human nature is the ability to produce large amounts of trash and waste materials.

While many people and cities around the world are realizing the impact that large amounts of trash can have on the planet, they aren’t quite sure how to solve the problem.

Landfills are in place in cities everywhere, but there are concerns about how beneficial landfills really are, leading more people to want to turn to recycling instead.

However, one of the main reasons that there is a hesitancy to switch to recycling is because of the costs associated with it.

Money is a driver for a lot of decision-making, and the consensus is that landfilling is cheaper than recycling.

This leads many people and cities to avoid making the switch to recycling, because they feel as if the costs are greater than the benefits.

In this article, we will provide a cost comparison of recycling versus the landfill, as well as take a more in-depth look at the costs associated with each.

We’ll also look briefly at how each is paid for, as well as discuss other factors that should be considered when deciding how to dispose of waste materials.

Recycling vs. Landfill – Cost Comparison

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is the term used for materials that are commonly disposed of through either recycling or landfills.

Many people wonder if it is cheaper to recycle different types of MSW or take it to the landfill.

It can be tricky to determine and provide exact numbers for the cost of recycling various materials versus taking them to the landfill.

This is because the costs can fluctuate and depend on the exact type of material

Recycling Costs

As far as recycling goes, there are different types of materials that can be recycled and each has to be processed in a different way.

The type of material and processing methods ultimately determine the cost.

However, the following table suggests which materials are generally less costly and which are more costly to recycle.

CostMaterial
Less CostlyAluminum, Steel, Most Glass
More CostlyCardboard, Paper, Plastic
General costs of recycling materials

Keep in mind that the information above is very general. The costs for recycling any recyclable materials also varies depending on where you live.

Landfill Costs

With landfills, most MSW is grouped together into one large pile and isn’t separated unless it requires certain disposal methods (such as batteries, paint cans, and the like).

Since all types of waste are grouped together, landfills generally charge what is called a tipping fee

The tipping fee is what consumers have to pay the landfill to dispose of their waste and is usually charged per ton of MSW, no matter what material the waste is.

Recycling Vs Landfill Costs In America

As most American cities don’t provide general or specific recycling costs, the following table will compare the average cost that two of the largest cities in America pay for both recycling and landfill services.

It’s important to note that the cost statistics listed below are for the cost of recycling 1 ton of material. Costs are based on 2019 data.

CityRecycling CostLandfill Cost
New York City, New York$686 USD$126 USD
Boston, Massachusetts$160 USD$80 USD

Both of these cities have high populations, so there is a lot of municipal solid waste.

For these two cities, you can see that the cost of taking that MSW to landfills is significantly cheaper than the cost of recycling. 

There is also data available for the average tipping fee for landfills in America.

The following statistics show regions where tipping fees increased. They are also reported as the cost per ton.

RegionAverage Tipping Fee (For 1 Ton Of Material)
Pacific$73
West/Midwest$51
South Central$41
National Average $55

Other regions in America had no change in their tipping fees, but the national average had an almost $3 increase between 2018 and 2019.

Recycling Vs Landfill Costs In Europe

European data shows the cost of recycling versus landfill broken down by country.

For recycling, statistics are broken down by material, but costs vary depending on the country. 

So instead, we will look at the cost range for recycling all types of recyclable materials, as well as the landfill fees in some countries that are part of the European Union.

Recycling Costs

The following statistics are based on 2021 tariff rates for Project Recovery Organisation Europe for 1 kg or 1 tonne of material.

CountryCost Range
Austria0.09-0.73 € per kg
France1.43-55.31 € per kg
Germany1.00-17.00 € per tonne
Spain0.02-0.86 € per kg
United Kingdom£ 3.00-180 per tonne

Landfill Costs

For landfills in Europe, the cost to the consumer is determined by both a tipping fee and a landfill tax.

The following table shows the total cost that is charged for disposing of 1 tonne of non-hazardous waste in the same European countries listed above.

CountryTotal Cost To Landfill 1 Tonne Of Material
Austria96.00 €
France80.50 €
Germany23.50 €
Spain45.15 €
United Kingdom91.20 €

How Much Does Recycling Cost Per Month?

There is not a set amount that recycling costs per month.

Rather, the cost of recycling depends on several factors, including:

  • Time
  • Place
  • Circumstance 

The cost of recycling is dependent on time because costs can vary throughout the year and over the course of several years.

The cost and value of scrap can fluctuate, as well as the costs needed to keep recycling fees running.

The place in which you live also determines the cost of recycling.

The cost depends largely on the population, available funds, and recycling programs where you live.

The final factor is circumstance. Examples of circumstances that could affect recycling costs include new regulations and legislation, as well as the state of the economy.

How Much Do Landfills Cost Per Month?

As with recycling, the cost of landfills also varies per month for many of the same reasons.

While the cost of landfills aren’t as likely to fluctuate on a month-to-month basis, it is still difficult to determine the cost because it mostly depends on where the landfill is located.

Landfills are mostly funded by the city and government, so the cost can vary anytime there are changes to the economy or legislation where you live. 

For example, clean air and other types of environmental legislation can cause the cost of landfills to increase. 

This is because landfills have to take extra steps and precautions to ensure that they aren’t harming the environment or population.

What Are The Main Costs In Recycling?

The main costs of recycling are determined by four factors:

  • Transportation Costs
  • Processing Costs
  • Energy Costs
  • Value Of Materials

Transportation

One of the larger costs of recycling is the fuel that is required for vehicles to pick up and transport recyclable materials from place to place.

The actual cost depends on both distance traveled and type of material, as some materials are transported more efficiently than others.

For example, you can generally fit more aluminum onto a truck than you can paper or plastic. Therefore it will take fewer loads to transport materials.

Cardboard is also very easily transported because it is usually compacted into bales before it is picked up.

Processing

Different materials have different processing costs associated with recycling them. Some are also more easily processed than others. 

Aluminum, steel, and some types of glass are cheaper to recycle because they require less processing and can be recycled over and over without losing their quality.

On the other hand, paper, plastic, and cardboard are more expensive because they require special processing (to remove ink, for example) or can only be recycled a limited number of times.

The more a material has to be modified in order to be recycled, the more expensive it is to recycle that material.

Energy

Energy is another significant cost, as the use of energy is involved in all parts of recycling.

The amount of energy used depends on the type of material that is being transported and processed.

For materials such as aluminum that are more easily transported and processed, energy costs will be lower.

But for plastic or paper that require modifications to be made in order to recycle them, energy costs will be higher.

Value Of Materials

The final cost associated with recycling depends on the value of the materials being recycled.

Some recycled materials are in higher demand than others, and the demand affects the cost to process the materials.

Materials that are in high demand may cost recycling facilities more money because they have to process and produce more of the materials faster.

Value depends on the type of material, and the value of each material can fluctuate throughout the year depending on needs.

What Are The Biggest Costs In Landfills?

The biggest costs associated with landfills are collection costs and disposal costs.

Collection costs are the costs associated with picking up waste materials from homeowners and businesses and include things such as transportation costs and labor.

Disposal costs are associated with sorting and disposing of materials, if necessary.

Not all types of waste can be stored with other wastes, so they must be disposed of properly.

Overall, the costs of landfills are generally less than the costs of recycling.

Why Is Landfilling Cheaper Than Recycling?

Landfilling is generally cheaper than recycling because landfills essentially act as a storage facility for waste materials.

Once the waste materials are picked up or dropped off, there is very little processing that has to be done to them.

The materials are dumped into a pile, where they are left for an indefinite amount of time.

With recycling, waste materials have to be processed in order to be used again.

Processing includes both sorting and breaking down the materials.

Sorting the materials is time and money consuming if they weren’t sorted when they were dropped off.

Breaking down the materials is also costly, especially if special methods have to be used.

Landfills are ultimately cheaper because the materials don’t have to be sorted and processed to the same extent (or at all).

How Are Recycling Plants And Landfills Paid For?

There are three main ways that recycling plants and landfills are paid for:

  • Pick Up/Tipping Fees
  • Taxes
  • Subsidies

Pick Up/Tipping Fees

Most recycling and waste disposal is treated as a utility and cities and companies charge a fee for picking up materials. 

This fee is put in place to cover the cost of transportation and renting the bin to store your waste until it can be picked up.

Landfills also charge a tipping fee or gate fee for dropping off materials, which also helps to cover some of the cost of transportation and disposal.

Taxes

Another way that recycling and landfilling is paid for is through taxes that you as a citizen pay for living in a certain place.

The amount you pay in taxes varies depending on where you live.

Taxes can help cover both small and large expenses associated with recycling facilities and landfills.

Subsidies 

While fees and taxes certainly help, they aren’t usually enough to cover the entire cost, especially when it comes to recycling.

Subsidies are large amounts of money that are given to cities and recycling centers from the state or federal government.

They are one of the largest sources of funding for recycling and landfills.

However, subsidies are usually given only if the service being provided is beneficial to the economy or social well-being of the citizens in that particular place.

Are Landfills Better Than Recycling Because They’re Cheaper?

Just because landfills are cheaper doesn’t mean that they are necessarily better.

While there are certainly pros and cons of both recycling and landfilling, it is important to look at all of the factors that are associated with each before deciding which is better.

What Other Factors Besides Cost Should Be Considered?

While cost is at the forefront of a lot of people’s decisions when they are debating between recycling and landfilling, it is not the only factor that should be considered.

Other factors include:

  • Energy use
  • Space
  • The environment

Energy use of recycling versus landfilling is another concern that many people consider. Although recycling is energy-efficient, landfilling is as well.

But one area where landfilling and recycling differ is the amount of space that landfills take up.

Eventually, space for landfills will run out. Recycling centers take up significantly less space.

The last factor that should be considered is the effect that both recycling and landfilling have on the environment

Landfills are filled with materials that don’t biodegrade, and some of the materials that are in landfills can harm the environment if they aren’t disposed of properly.

Recycling is more eco-friendly than landfilling.

While it doesn’t do as much harm to the environment, not all types of materials can be recycled, so some of it ends up going into landfills anyway.

Conclusion 

The fact that landfilling is cheaper on average leads many people to stray away from the idea of recycling.

Although landfills do cost less money to operate, the costs of recycling can be better understood considering everything that is involved to run an effective recycling facility.

When making the decision, consider that costs for both are mostly paid through subsidies and consumers only have to pay a small fee. 

However, other aspects besides cost should be factored into your decision as well, such as energy efficiency and the effect that each has on the environment.

For a lot of people, the benefits of recycling outweigh the costs.

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