NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 10, 2008

Just months after riding an incredible high, the recycling market has tanked almost in lockstep with the global economic meltdown.  As consumer demand for autos, appliances and new homes dropped, so did the steel and pulp mills' demand for scrap, paper and other recyclables, says the Associated Press (AP).

For example:

  • Cardboard that sold for about $135 a ton in September is now going for $35 a ton.
  • Plastic bottles have fallen from 25 cents to 2 cents a pound.
  • Aluminum cans dropped nearly half to about 40 cents a pound, and scrap metal tumbled from $525 a gross ton to about $100.


  • The recycling market has gotten so bad that haulers in Oregon and Nevada who were once paid for recyclables are now getting nothing or in some cases, having to pay to unload their wares.
  • In Washington state, what was once a multimillion-dollar revenue source for the city of Seattle may become a liability next year as the city may have to start paying companies to take their materials.

Last year, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  They recycled about 150 million tons of material -- roughly 80 million of that in iron and steel -- supporting an industry that employs about 85,000 with $70 billion in sales, said Bob Garino, director of commodities at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based trade association that represents more than 1,600 companies worldwide.

Most recyclables are shipped to Asian countries that use the material to make products that are shipped backed to the United States to be sold.

But the market shift is now jeopardizing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of long-term contracts for scrap metal as some companies that signed when prices were high are trying to cancel or postpone deliveries to take advantage of the cheaper spot market, Garino said.

Source: P.J. Dickerscheid, "Recycling goes from boom to bust as economy stalls," Associated Press/Houston Chronicle, December 7, 2008.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues