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Monday, December 08, 2008

Now with the recyling downturn

This recession is affecting the recycling industry. On Saturday, Dan reported the following in my recent blog post about metal:

As to the recycling situation specifically, the prices paid for waste paper crashed suddenly, and now those who broker the stuff for sale overseas -- waste paper is one of our leading exports by weight; it comes back to the States as packaging -- can't get rid of it. Out here in California, recycling centers are sitting on mountains of recycling and in some cases are having to rent land to store the stuff or just send it to landfills.

So, I wasn't surprised when I read this in the New York Times yesterday (Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up (reg. req.)):

The economic downturn has decimated the market for recycled materials like cardboard, plastic, newspaper and metals. Across the country, this junk is accumulating by the ton in the yards and warehouses of recycling contractors, which are unable to find buyers or are unwilling to sell at rock-bottom prices.
Ordinarily the material would be turned into products like car parts, book covers and boxes for electronics. But with the slump in the scrap market, a trickle is starting to head for landfills instead of a second life.

Sorry. Sending all that waste to the landfills isn't going to work. From a recent article in the State Journal-Register (Illinois has landfill space for 18 years):

State environmental officials say overall disposal capacity in Illinois is sufficient for the next 18 years.
[...]
State officials say landfill space varies from region to region.
For the Chicago metro area, there is capacity for about seven years. That’s in comparison to southern Illinois which has a capacity of about 54 years.

I don't know what the landfill situation is in other states, but I'm sure it's not unlimited.

Next thing you know, we'll be paying to recycle (NYT article):

Businesses and institutions face their own challenges and decisions. Harvard, for instance, sends mixed recyclables — including soda bottles and student newspapers — to a nearby recycling center that used to pay $10 a ton. In November, Harvard received two letters from the recycler, the first saying it would begin charging $10 a ton and the second saying the price had risen to $20.

I guess that makes sense since most of us already pay to have the rest of our garbage hauled away. But, where will they put it if it can't be turned into something else?

The sole commenter on the SJ-R article recalled when we used to burn our trash. I know some places around Sangamon County still allow the burning of leaves. Not in Springfield, though. And, definitely not newspapers and boxes and such. Sidenote: When my mom used to burn papers in the alley behind our house, she would occasionally throw in an empty can of hairspray or shaving creme. BANG! That was thrilling.

So, citizen recyclers went from thinking we were cool for being environmental. Then recycling got turned into an industry. Somewhere in there it became a necessity. And now that industry is suffering like so many other industries. What's next?

Posted by Marie at December 8, 2008 9:35 PM

Comments

Burning trash: We never did out in the south suburbs -- Star Disposal, the local garbage company, hauled our stuff over to the dump over by Chicago Heights, where most of it was incinerated. When the wind came from that direction -- whoa.

And a memory of my mom's neighborhood on the South Side, near 83rd and Racine: All the two flat buildings on her street had concrete incinerator boxes placed out by the alley. That must have been positively smogtrocious.

Posted by: Dan at December 10, 2008 9:44 AM

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