Recycling markets suffer in present economy

Published 8:10 am Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Recycling markets are on the downswing once again. For the past couple of years the recycling industry has enjoyed very profitable markets. Recently, as our nations, and worlds, economies spin downward, so has the demand for recyclable materials. This does not mean we should recycle less, it means we need to recycle more.

Here is a perspective of market changes this past year. Nine months ago, our SEMREX (Southeast Minnesota Recyclers’ Exchange) director was marketing tin for $235 a ton. Last month that same ton of tin was being marketed for $35. Also, you must call ahead to see if they were accepting baled tin before you can ship a load. In March of 2008 corrugated cardboard was at $130 a ton and magazines were bringing $110 a ton. In November, corrugated cardboard was down to $30 a ton and magazines were at $40.

It is not only the pricing of materials that is worrisome, but also the markets themselves and their ability to accept materials. We can hardly tell people not to put their recycling out on the curb this week because markets are bad or not accepting materials. Nor is it feasible to store recyclable materials for any length of time. With new material coming in every day, you have to ship whether the market is good or bad. It is not financially possible to build a storage facility large enough to store materials for other than short periods of time. If you have good quality material and a steady source being collected on a regular schedule, the markets will depend upon you to supply their market needs in good times and bad. It’s the little guy who will have trouble marketing his materials in a down economy because of his inconsistent supply and low volume.

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How can we help? Recycling markets have changed in the past 10 years and contamination — mixed paper, labels, bottle caps — is not as great an issue. However, we still need to provide a clean stream of materials to those markets, for good reasons. If we have plastic, tin, aluminum and paper that is contaminated with oil, food waste or other disease carrying ability, the people who collect, ship and handle the materials are at risk. In summer months the odors are offensive to workers and neighbors, and maggots and rodents become a nuisance. Value is important in a down market, and having larger volumes of good clean material that is not contaminated with food product, and sorted to a pure stream of material without foreign pieces or fragments will ensure higher value. This is why we ask people not to break glass. Pieces are trapped inside other containers and machinery used to sort the material is unable to remove them.

Some of the positive changes in the way recycling is collected and handled have made it even easier. We have always asked people to put their paper products into a sack. In the past this meant many sacks for news, magazines, junk mail, etc. Now, however, you may only need one paper sack for all paper products, but we still ask that you keep the like items together. In other words put the stack of newspaper in the sack with the magazines but do not shuffle them like a deck of cards. Keep the magazines together in one half of the sack and newspapers on the other half. I like to empty my shredded paper into the bottom of the sack before I put in the newspaper and magazines.

What is recyclable? When speaking about paper products we want pretty much everything unless it came from the refrigerator or freezer. Pretty simple to remember. Items in the refrigerator are coated with wax or laminated to prevent leakage and it reduces the recyclability of the paper. Remember, plastics (food and beverage containers) must have a recycling number of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 7. If there is no number located inside the arrow triangle, the item is not recyclable. Place it in the trash.

Keep up the good work, Freeborn County.

Randy Tuchtenhagen is the Freeborn County solid waste officer.