Every week or so three quarters of Americans perform a green good deed and send their recycling off to a processing plant. If you are one of them, and you should be, you probably imagine that your used cardboard, aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and junk mail is turned into new consumer products. Lately, however, it is becoming increasingly likely that these highly-usable materials are simply transported to a warehouse and put into storage. Why would anyone want to hang onto your trash? The answer, as with so many things these days, is the economy.
As the price of commodities plummeted in the fall of 2008, recycling companies watched their profit margins collapse. The price of exported cardboard, which had climbed to almost $200 per ton in July, fell to $20 per ton in December. Aluminum cans, which had sold for more than a dollar per pound, dropped to less than 50 cents. Then, things got worse.
Not only has the value of recyclables plummeted, the demand for them has decreased as well. Economic slowdown in China, the largest importer of U.S. recyclables, has radically decreased demand, which further affects prices. As the value of the materials is pushed lower, the cost of maintaining recycling programs increases and, potentially, becomes impossible to maintain.
This has already happened in small communities across the country that must transport their recyclables long distances to processing stations. If the town can no longer afford to transport and process recyclables, it is not hard to figure out where these materials will end up instead.
So what can we do to encourage recycling programs?
- The first thing is to choose goods made from recycled materials whenever possible. Though the impact of one consumer's purchases on the global economy may seem negligible, it is the best way we have to show our support for recycling.
- If your town is struggling to maintain it's recycling program, do your part to reduce the burden. Begin by reducing the amount of packaging and trash your household generates. If you still have mounds of recycling building, sort through and reuse all that you can.
- Finally, don't forget that shredded paper makes an excellent fodder for your compost pile.