Managers in the municipal and commercial recycling business have noticed that the worldwide recession in commodities prices is now affecting the end markets for recycled materials. Prices for commodities such as cardboard, newsprint, paper and film plastic have dropped dramatically in recent months. The export market, principally China, has practically closed in terms of buying film plastic; prices in the cardboard market have dropped to near zero per tonne, even for material that’s delivered.
The mainstream media appears to be unaware of the magnitude of the repercussions. Municipal managers are said to already be warehousing bales of old newsprint, running the risk that if the material is stored for too long, the ink will leach into fibres that then cannot be de-inked. Such stored material will likely have to be landfilled, or sent for processing and storage as a finished product, at great expense.
At the very time when many municipalities are trying to achieve aggressive diversion goals, prices have dropped, while most collection and processing costs remain relatively fixed. In Ontario — where industry “stewards” pay 50 per cent of the net cost of curbside residential recycling — the fees/costs for municipalities and stewards alike will likely soar for the current year, and at least some of 2009.
This topic will be covered in depth in the forthcoming December/January edition of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine. Other articles will describe problem materials at recycling plants, and the Ontario government’s new discussion paper that aims to bring Extended Producer Responsibility to the province’s troubled waste management system.