Recycling Slams to a Sudden Stop

All across the nation, recycling has hit an abrupt and solid brick wall. The economy has fallen off sharply and China, the largest buyer for recycled materials, just isn’t buying. With prices so low that they’re not worth handling, recycling centers all across the nation are at a loss as to what to do with what has suddenly become just so much trash.

How bad is it, really? Tin was at $327 a ton earlier this year. Now? Five bucks. That’s it. Collect, compact, contain, warehouse, and handle it, and you get $5 for a 2,000 pounds of vegetable cans. Even at the lower gas prices, it doesn’t pay to start up the heavy equipment to load it onto a truck in the first place. And it’s not just tin either. West coast prices for mixed paper are down to $20 a ton, less than a fifth of the $105 of earlier this year. Gas prices haven’t fallen that far.

Some recycling centers are warehousing it… and warehousing it… and warehousing even more, in hopes that the prices will come back up. They don’t have much choice. It cost them more to gain it in the first place than the buyers are paying now. Some have government contracts to keep collecting it, but the market just doesn’t justify the costs.

The single exception is glass. It seems there’s still a domestic demand for that. But all that paper and plastic that we’ve been so conscientiously separating and hauling to the colored bins and dumpsters? It’s likely that it’s headed for landfill… or worse. While you may have been recycling because it’s good for the planet, THEY were doing so because it made money.

Two questions remain:

1) Why do recycled products cost so much more than new materials when we’re giving it to them, (only to have it sold at a profit,) and we then buy it back as other products?

2) Are we still supposed to be separating and recycling this stuff?

Sooner or later, the falling economy was bound to affect recycling. Perhaps the better idea these days is to use less in the first place.

Here’s a thought: Just because they’re not accepting it at the recycling bins doesn’t mean you can’t still recycle, right there at home. Do you buy bottled water? Start refilling them, reuse them instead of throwing them out. Do you ship things? Take that paper, those egg crates and other clean recyclable products, and use them for packing. Tin cans? What about craft projects, pencil holders, robot toys? If push comes to shove, smash ‘em down and warehouse ‘em yourself.

Times are changing. We’ll adapt, and figure things like this out. Local solutions may be developed.

Meanwhile, use less, and keep on recycling right there at home.