Recycling Crashes, But Waste Management Inc. Pushes On

The commercial Recycling market has crashed — HARD. Earlier this year, recycled tin was bringing as much as $327 a ton. Today it hovers at $5 a ton. Paper has also fallen fast, down to $20 a ton (for the right kind and quality) from over $100 in just a few months. The downturn of the economy is affecting the Recycling industry hardest of all, it seems. Without a demand for the products, there’s simply no need for their packaging.

So far, most in the business have either stopped buying the waste. Some of the bigger companies are financially able to warehouse it while waiting for prices to recover, but that’s a very limited possibility as well. It costs money to warehouse, of course. Lynn Brown, of Waste Management, Inc., brings up what may be a much bigger point: “Another issue with warehousing is that many recycled materials cannot be stored long-term, because some fibrous items such as newspapers lose their value in just four to six months.” That’s a pretty small timeframe for the economy to improve. If it doesn’t, perishables will be headed towards landfill.

The problem is two-fold. Not only will the formerly recycled products be clogging up overworked landfill operations, but with recycling programs losing feasibility, the demand that does exist for recycled paper may end up meaning more trees are cut down, and more toxic chemicals pumped and dumped into our planet’s air and water.

Amidst it all, Waste Management, Inc., which has been recycling our garbage since 1971, continues to advertise. Why? What do they know that the rest of the recycling world doesn’t? We asked Ms. Brown about that, about what WM is planning on doing to adapt. She points out that the market is cyclic, and cites two previous times when the prices have been low, and that they plan to ride out the stalled market. But that doesn’t mean that they’re passively waiting for a magic turn of events. WM plans to broaden the scope of their recycling efforts to include “everything from shingles to CLF lightbulbs.” Ms. Brown also shared that WM will be looking at Single-streaming, recycling locally, to reduce costs and make continued plans more feasible.

That still doesn’t explain why they’d be pushing for more clients when they don’t have a market for the recovered wastes they have now. This brought us to the real crux of the matter, so eloquently stated by the Waste Management representative:

“As the leading residential recycler in North America we believe that the worldwide demand for these resources will grow again and that community and commercial recycling programs will be key to supporting this demand.

“In fact, we believe there may be some upcoming opportunities to grow our recycling business to support our sustainability goal of nearly tripling the amount of recyclables we handle from 8 million to 20 million tons by 2020.”

Lofty goals? Perhaps. The message is clear enough to see, though. Waste Management, Inc. believes in recycling, sees it as an essential part of saving our planet.

We agree wholeheartedly. It’s a very good thing that Recycling has been make profitable, but all across America that’s not why we’re running around separating our trash into bins and faithfully taking them out to the curb at least once a week. We do it because we believe in it, and we need to continue to do so. Moreover, we need to continue to support recycling politically, to be willing to step up to the plate and pitch in financially in these times, so that trash continues to be reused, not just buried in a landfill somewhere.

Why does Protect The Ocean care? Why should you care? When raw materials aren’t recycled, they’re polluting the air and water. Paper mills spew stench and toxic byproducts into the oceans. Plastics come from oil, and what isn’t recycled is adding to the pile, and makes an even bigger carbon footprint as it’s shipped over, and as those new plastics are shipped back to us. Recycling is an essential part of sustainable resource management.

For now, if you’re asked not to contribute certain types of products, please warehouse them there in your garage if possible. More importantly, continue to support and demand recycled products when you do buy. Remember, this isn’t just a matter of profits. It’s our home we’re talking about, and our future. We need to protect it, whether or not it’s en vogue or profitable to do so.

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