Credit crisis putting the brakes on recycling
Recycling prices are crashing and that's putting municipal recycling at risk.
The city of Anchorage is blaming the market for a decision to stop accepting glass for recycling.
Donna Mears of the Solid Waste Services department says there's too much supply of glass and not enough demand.
As of January, the city no longer will accept glass.
Anchorage already has scrapped it plastic bag recycling program. New Orleans' commercial, curbside glass collection also has stopped.
Just as the price of oil is falling, a falling demand for consumer products is sparking a dive in prices for recycled materials. Recycling also is a victim of the credit crisis.
A tight credit market has blocked the construction of Chinese plants that turn recyclables such as paper and plastics into other products. That has led to a glut of reusable materials and a severe drop in their value to companies that collect and ship them.
Wastepaper gets turned into cardboard boxes used to ship computers, running shoes and other consumer products back to the United States. Plastic bottles become synthetic carpets, and the filling for winter coats and sleeping bags. Metal scrap is melted down for steel, copper wiring and aluminum cans.
Now, with the economy worsening, manufacturers don't need as much of those raw materials.
"It's all connected," said Ed Skernolis, acting executive director of the National Recycling Coalition. "It all ripples down through the system."
Demand from China has long driven the recycling industry here. But as the global economy slowed down and demand for manufactured goods dropped, China stopped buying such enormous volumes of recycled material, said Thomas Suydam, assistant to the director of the University of New Orleans Center for Economic Development.
"There's a drop in demand in commodities because of the financial situation," Suydam said. "It's occurring across the country. They're having the same problem. There's no market for recycled goods."
Crashing prices for recycled goods also are making dents in local revenue. In North Carolina, Raleigh city trucks pick up the recyclables amd deliver them to Sonoco, which pays $26 a ton, with bonuses based on the price of recyclable material.
Two years ago, the city collected about $260,000 in bonuses from Sonoco, but the bonuses have shriveled. The last one, received in July, was $3,100.
"We'll be kissing that bonus goodbye," said Linda Leighton, waste reduction specialist with the city of Raleigh.
This is also a concern for environmentalists, who fear that reduced incentives to recycle might lead to increased use of landfill space. Sierra Club spokesperson Jeff Tittel said that while he is not concerned that recycling programs in and of themselves are in danger, he is worried that the amount New Jersey recycles could end up dropping at a time when the state should really be increasing the amount of material it recycles.
"We need to do a lot more recycling … Not recycling is a lose-lose for the planet," said Tittel.
While recycling proponents urge cities and consumers to stick to the long-term goal of less consumption of raw materials and energy and less use of landfills, investing for the long term is difficult, if not impossible, when there is not enough cash to make ends meet.