Recession Has US Recycling Industry in Dumpster

Scrap fetching a fraction of the price it used to—if it's not cheaper to send it to landfills

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 8, 2008 8:55 AM CST

(Newser) – With the economy tanking, recyclable material is selling like, well, trash. Mixed paper, which sold for $105 per ton as recently as October, now fetches $20-$25, the New York Times reports. “It’s awful,” said one recycling rep, who says her yard is packed with refuse that can’t be sold. “Either it goes to landfill or it begins to cost us money.”

The decline coincides with a deteriorating economy in China, the biggest export market for US recyclables. Even in an industry accustomed to price swings, many recyclers have responded by limiting what they’ll take, while others are shutting down entirely. “Before, you could be green by being greedy,” said one business professor. “Now, you’ve really got to rely on your notions of civic participation.”

Kanawha County, WVa, is no longer accepting aluminum cans and plastics at the Slack Street Recycling Center in Charleston, seen on Nov. 21, 2008.
Kanawha County, WVa, is no longer accepting aluminum cans and plastics at the Slack Street Recycling Center in Charleston, seen on Nov. 21, 2008.   (AP Photo)
An unidentified man walks next to a truck he is driving full of recycled items that he and a group picked up in San Francisco, June 26, 2008.
An unidentified man walks next to a truck he is driving full of recycled items that he and a group picked up in San Francisco, June 26, 2008.   (AP Photo)
One Montana recycler has stopped taking everything except cardboard.
One Montana recycler has stopped taking everything except cardboard.   (Shutterstock)
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They were telling them, ‘We really don’t care what you say about the economy. If you don’t recycle, our planet will be dirty.' - Rachel Fisk, a West Virginia elementary school teacher, whose students wrote letters telling the city to keep recycling.

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