Recycling Participation Remains Strong Despite Drop in Commodity Prices

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Ohio’s unemployment rate is growing with 40,000 of Ohio’s workers having lost their jobs just last month. The result: Ohioans shop less, buy less — and have less to throw away.

But while dumpsters are taking longer to fill, it’s another story for recycling bins.

Evan Williams arrives at a SWACO drop-off box with bags of empty bottles and old newspapers.

[Sound of bottles breaking in dumpster]

The trip has cost him fuel money But Williams says it’s just a small price to pay for what he considers his share of environmental stewardship.

“You give and take really It helps get rid of the trash. We like Earth. We want it to stay healthy,” says Williams.

Williams is not the only one sustaining his green behavior during the recession. Jonathan Kissell – from Rumpke recycling – cites a noticeable trend.

“June was the highest month ever for drop off boxes. We have seen participation increase over the past year. So we’re receiving more material,” says Kissell.

This has caused somewhat of a conundrum for the company, because Rumpke makes money by selling what it collects.

“Placing the material is as important as collecting the material. The recycling markets are very volatile. Fluctuating up and down like a roller coaster,” says Kissell.

And since the economic downturn, prices have nosedived. Last summer Rumpke earned about 100 dollars for a ton of recycled paper – it now gets 20. The reason for the fall in commodity prices is the close link between the recycling industry and consumer shopping habits.

For example, glass bottles sent to Rumpke’s facilities are crushed and sent to Defiance, Ohio – where they’re transformed into fiberglass insulating material. Some of the pop bottles are sent to Haviland, Ohio – where they’re converted into drainage pipes.

With fewer people buying those new goods, demand for the recycled commodities that go into making them plummeted. Kissell explains how the weakened demand translated into weakened market prices.

“With the global economy as it began to collapse and unfold so did the recycling market and the demand for recycled goods decreased,” says Kissell.

Don Convington is from Signode Plastics – a company that purchases old plastic bottles and transforms them into plastic packaging strips. Last summer, business was booming, and the company had to import plastic bottles from across the continent to satisfy demand. But with less people buying its products in recent months, Convington says the company has had to change things.

“We used to import materials from as far away as Mexico City – believe it or not – and as far North and West as British Columbia. We’ve been buying less of it,” says Convington.

In fact, the shipping industry as a whole has suffered since the beginning of the recession. This dip in shipping activity has had a noticeable effect on the variety of materials Rumpke processes in its plants.

“Our cardboard numbers have slightly dipped. If retail outlets are selling fewer goods, they’re not sending out as many cardboard boxes and so we’re not receiving as many cardboard boxes back at our plant,” says Kissell.

Rumpke has been able to weather the recession and has not had significant layoffs. It has been able to find markets for its commodities – despite collecting less money for them.

But Kissell is optimistic that things are looking up. He interprets a recent increase in commodity prices as a sign of hope for the troubled industry.

“We actually saw historic lows at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. Now over the past couple of months we’ve seen a very slow but somewhat consistent rise in the values of the commodities,” says Kissell.

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