Recycling is affected primarily by the price of the recyclables that can catch in the market. If the virgin materials are cheaper then recycling has problems. Throughout the history of recycling in the UK and the US there were many shifts from one scheme to another. Waste disposal had been affected by incineration plants and landfills could expand where there was vacant space for them. The incineration is a practice that is connected with odours and pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides but also lead which in some cases exceeded the safe level of lead for children.
The paper recycling had collapsed in the UK because of the low quality of the paper recycled (newspapers and cardboard) compared to the need for quality papers for office use. Also the fluctuations in prices led to the abandonment of the paper recycle. The fact is that if the recyclables are cheap and the labour costs are high the practice cannot continue.
In the US they used in the 19th and early 20th century to dump refuse in the rivers and other water bodies but this stopped after the raise of environmental concerns. Kitchen waste had been cooked and was served as food to pigs but after an infection of pigs the practice declined because not very well cooked pigs could pass the infection to humans.
It has been proven that the most effective way to do recycling is to have some fees payed to the companies that were doing incineration and the other profits were from the electricity sold by the incineration plants. In other words the enthusiasts of recycling who believed that they can profit only from selling recyclable products were afar from reality, which demanded financial help by the government so as the recycling to survive.
Fees to bags was a way and still is to pay fees to waste management practices in order these to survive.
New York city was preparing to export their waste to other states but there was passion reaction against that, such as the one by the Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton who made a law not to accept other’s states waste.
In the early 20th century there were ashes as part of the recycling parts because of coal burning of wastes at home in the US. These ashes were used for parks and highways constructions. The other trucks that were carrying recyclables were for glass, paper, and metals.
About plastics the story is that plastics have the lowest capacity to be recycled many times. PVC is an organochloride substance which harms the environment such as the ozone layer if chlorine escapes. PET plastic is better in environmental standards compared to PVC but also to paper and glass.
Composting was encouraged to be done in the household level but not in a municipal practice because of doubts of the profit of it.
In 2000 New York was making a new large incineration facility competing the waste disposal on landfills and this competition of the two practices was actually in all the history of recycling with the pros and cons on each side.