Recycling inefficient? Well, here’s one data point: In my city 90% of all trash is being diverted into one or another of the recycling programs, and only 10% is going into landfill. Considering the landfill is miles distant and trash has to be trucked there, that’s an energy saving right there.
A large part of the recent improvement in diversion rates is the city-wide food scraps recycling program. Everybody got a cute little food scraps can for our kitchens, and it’s really easy to make sure all the peelings and scrapings and cores etc. go into that can, and that into the big green curbside bucket. The garbage trucks that come by weekly have robot arms that pick up the green can (garden waste + food scraps: compostable), the blue can (paper, metal, glass) and the black can (the remarkably small amount of residue) and dump them into different compartments in the truck.
The trucks go off to a recycling center that multiple local cities went together to create, here’s its annual report (PDF). Those numbers (45% diversion) are lower because the city keeps back the organics for its own big compost heap on several acres of city-owned ground.
Anyway, depending on where you live, and how involved the citizens get, “waste diversion” (from landfill to more productive destinations) works very well and is a net saving for taxpayers.