Hard Economic Times Making it Harder to Recycle

The economic downturn is affecting many parts of our lives, including our ability to recycle. According to a New York Times article today, the market for recycled materials like cardboard, plastic, newspaper and metals has just about crashed. Material that would normally be turned into products like car parts, book covers and boxes for electronics is now ending up in junk yards due to a lack of buyers.


According to Official Board Markets, the West Coast, mixed paper is selling for $20 to $25 a ton, down from $105 in October. Additionally, recyclers in the article say that tin is worth about $5 a ton, down from $327 earlier this year.

Brian Sternberg, education and outreach coordinator for Sedona Recycles, is quoted in the article. He says that his organization has recently stopped taking certain types of cardboard, like cereal, rice and pasta boxes. With no market, and the organization's yard already packed fence to fence, there is no choice but to let these materials go to the landfill.

In New York City, the city is getting paid $10 a ton for paper, down from $50 or more before October. So far it has no plans to cease recycling. In Boston, prices are down to $5 a ton, and the city expects it will soon have to pay to unload its papers. The article says that city officials believe it would still be better to recycle than to pay $80 a ton to put it into a landfill.

The recycling slump has provoked people to question the motives behind recycling--no longer profitable, can a sense of civic duty keep it going? Jim Wilcox, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, summed this up perfectly in the article: "Before, you could be green by being greedy...Now you've really got to rely more on your notions of civic participation."

Illustrating the notion of civic duty, second graders at Ruthlawn Elementary School in South Charleston, West Virginia who are involved in recycling were alerted that the program may be discontinued. Instead of playing during recess, the children spent time writing letters to the governor and mayor and asking them to keep recycling. As a result, the city plans to start trucking the recyclables to Kentucky.

While the emissions created by transporting recyclables may lessen the impact of recycling, the dedication to recycling proves a point that should be noted.
We've come so far when it comes to recycling, it would be a shame for us to let it slide now!