by Lorin Meeder, Environmental Programs Coordinator
Twenty-some years ago, when curbside recycling was just getting started in most communities, the market for recycled materials was not well established. In principle, it was a great idea. But a number of factories simply weren’t equipped to process recycled materials. And where they were, the fluctuation in prices for those materials made it hard for haulers to count on a steady stream of income from selling the material they collected. Sometimes it cost them more to collect it than they could recover in sales. So there were instances where collectors would quietly take the items to a landfill and dump them. And some of that was reported in the news.
Fast forward to 2010. By now, most makers of glass, paper, metal and plastics have updated or replaced their old processing equipment and now welcome recycled items as low-cost feedstock. But for the past two years, the economy has been weak and a lot of manufacturing has gone offshore, so the prices for recycled materials have mirrored that. Even so, post-consumer recycling has become established as a mainstay of manufacturing both in the U.S. and abroad. And income that collectors get from selling it to manufacturers has helped to offset the cost of their collection in communities throughout the country.
But now we’re starting to hear a new type of recycling: the stories from the ‘80s and early ‘90s about recyclables going to landfills are finding new life and being recycled by people who have somehow become convinced that recycling is part of a vast conspiracy to take away our freedoms, or something like that.
That’s a shame because the real benefits of recycling – to Cranberry, to the waste collectors, to manufacturers, to residents and the environment – are now established facts, not mere conjecture. But it’s a volatile market and it’s one that’s clearly affected by the economy. So less than a year after a steep decline in recycled material prices which started in the fall of 2008 and led to a revival of the landfill stories, the prices for raw material, like iron ore, began to spike. As a result, the markets for recycled materials rallied, producing revenues by June of 2009. And that rally has continued. We take recycling very serious in Cranberry Township, and so does our contracted collector. So while it is easy to recycle old rumors, there’s a dwindling market for them, and the payoff is really very small.