The Recycling Bottleneck

Everybody's doing it. But where do all those cans and bottles go from here?

IT'S A SELF-CONGRATULATORY RITUAL, repeated every day, every week, all over America. Separate the clear glass bottles from the green and amber ones. Place the newsprint in one basket, mixed white paper in another, the reams of used computer paper in a third. Haul the whole lot out to the curb. There. You've just done your bit for humanity: you've recycled. It's Miller time.

Not so fast.

To be sure, recycling is in vogue. Citizen participation is at an all-time high; curbside collection programs have exploded from 600 in 1989 to 4,000 today. But the dirty secret, and it's not a...