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Those old bales of cardboard, empty wine bottles, milk jugs and tuna fish cans just don’t bring what they used to.
Shelby County’s recycling center is struggling with a steep drop in prices for recycled paper, plastics, glass and aluminum; and, in some cases, the center must pay a fee to dispose of the stuff.
Solid Waste Director Russell Thomas said county residents can help – by recycling more.
Prices for some recycled commodities are off nearly 50 percent from year-ago levels, and some are off way more than that. Aluminum cans, for example, were bringing the recycling center 92 cents per pound at this time last year; last month they sold for 48 cents. Steel cans were bringing $199 per ton last year; this year they are fetching only $43 per ton.
For cardboard and paper products, the story is even worse. Last year, the center could sell mixed paper, such as junk mail, for $65-$70 per ton. This year, mixed paper brings from $0 up to $5 per ton. The same story is true for newsprint and cardboard. In some cases, the center has had to pay a fee to have the items recycled.
The drop in prices comes at a time when Shelby County residents are recycling more than ever and the recycling center is broadening the list of items it accepts. In 2008, residents recycled 400 tons more than they did in 2007, Thomas said.
The center also now accepts a wider range of plastic products than it did in the past. Formerly, residents could recycle only products with a number 1 or 2 on the bottom. Now products with a number up to 7 (such as plastic deli trays) can be recycled at the center on 7th Street.
Last year, the center took in approximately $34,000 from the sale of recycled goods, Thomas said. That’s enough to pay for between half and two-thirds the cost of operating the county’s recycling program.
To cope with dropping prices, Thomas is taking a fill-‘em-up and wait-and-see approach.
The plan involves baling and then storing materials such as cardboard, plastic, and newspaper until either the market recovers or the center acquires enough material to fill a tractor-trailer load. A larger quantity of material, squashed down in bales, is not only more cost-efficient to transport, it brings more money on the recycled market, Thomas said.
So the center is baling the recyclables and crushing the aluminum and steel cans both to reduce volume and storing them at the county road department on Kentucky Street.
Meanwhile, residents can help by doing what they have been doing – increasing the amount of material they send to the recycling center and decreasing the amount of material they throw away in the garbage. The faster the recyclables accumulate, the faster the county can fill up a truck load and efficiently haul it off to market.
“Recycling is getting bigger and better every day in the county, and we love it,” Thomas said. “And the more we get, the better off we’re going to be.”