(Editor's Note: the Times-Standard didn't update their Online front page again this weekend so you won't be able to find my column. I've reprinted it here for readers who want to view it.
By Dave Stancliff
I talked with a small businessman in Arcata the other day and the subject of recycling came up. Linn, who owns a muffler shop, pointed to a stack of catalytic convertors in one corner, and shook his head in disgust.
“Their value is dropping through the floor,” he said. “A year ago I could have sold that bunch for $2,000. I’ll be lucky to get $500 for them now.” Linn isn’t alone. Small businesses and municipalities across the country face this year’s decline in prices and demand for recycled material.
In recent years, recycling has been profitable and a win-win situation for all involved. Municipalities, the recycling companies that serve them, and the manufacturers that process the paper, cans and plastics into everything from packaging to fabric have found profit in the practice.
Those profits are disappearing as consumers buy fewer goods and factories need less raw material. In a recent report from the Association of Municipal Recycling Coordinators - a non profit organization of management professionals - the alarm was sounded.
According to this report, the “recycling market is in turmoil.” It points out that there is now a glut of recyclables, but they expect that to level off over the coming months as generation of this material slows down.
The report stated, “the overseas market appears to have pretty much dried up and recycling programs in Europe are also facing the same oversupply challenges.” Allen Herschkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, recently told the press that he was concerned that the recycling infrastructure in America might not survive without government help.
I’m not sure I agree with Herschkowitz. Any kind of bailout is viewed very critically right now. However, the government should prioritize normal funding for programs that are ecologically healing - like recycling. My biggest concern is that people will stop recycling if they get less money for their efforts.
The slow down in the recycling industry, has a few good side effects. There’s less copper theft in Lansing, MI., according to The Lansing State Journal. It’s report declared that is the good news when markets for metals and other recyclables have tumbled.
Lt. Noel Garcia, a spokesman for the Lansing Police Department, told the Journal “the decrease in crime is, of course, welcome.” He said t theft of copper from vacant homes and other properties is down.
I’ve also read that recycling thieves who were stealing manhole covers have moved onto other pursuits, due to plunging profits.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash last year. Bob Garino, director of commodities at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a Washington, D.C. based trade association, told the press that about 150 million tons of material were recycled - roughly 80 million of that in iron and steel - supporting an industry that employs 85,000 workers and has $70 billion in sales.
Experts say most of the recyclables Americans generate are shipped to Asian countries to make products that are shipped back to the United States.
Prices and profits are down right according to the industry gurus, but many of them think that is a temporary situation. Mike Schedler, the technical director of NAPCOR, the trade organization for the North American PET plastics industry, told the press “there should be as much of a focus on the end use of recyclables as on their collection.”
There’s a sense of hope in the recycling industry, despite it’s sudden hard times. I suspect that’s because anyone with a brain understands that recycling is absolutely necessary. Imagine what would happen to the country’s landfills if we stopped recycling? Not a pretty picture.
Changes are coming this year. The new administration will be more environmentally conscious. Most Americans appreciate the fact that recycling is necessary, and hopefully will not change their habits during this rough stretch in the economy.
I’d like to see more American manufacturers like “Terracycle” in Trenton, New Jersey (http://www.terracycle.net ), that make things out of recycled material instead of shipping it overseas. More businessmen need to look to the good old USA again and the potential our own recycled materials have.
As It Stands, there will always be trash, and the need to ecologically dispose of it is tied into the need to make a profit while we do it.