Manage and Rationalize Recycling in Down Markets

Sorting and packing waste for recycling at an industrial site

Since June, commodity prices, including cardboard, metals, and many plastics have been trending steadily downward. This begs the question, “How do we rationalize recycling and prevent the waste generated by our operations from going to landfills in this market?” Below are a few ideas that I think you’ll find helpful to keep your recycling programs healthy and growing during these times of depressed recycling prices.

Do Your Research

In the age of the search engine, it’s not too difficult to get, at least the basic recycling information you need. Consider monthly magazines like Resource Recycling and its sister publication Plastics Recycling. Recycling Today is another publication that, while more focused on metal recycling, provides good information about cardboard and plastics recycling too.

Set Realistic Expectations

If your facility began recycling cardboard at this time last year (November 2021), then you may conclude that you made a poor decision based on today’s prices. The fact is that the markets for paper and plastic recycling function similarly to those that govern wheat, corn, and pork bellies. They go up and down. Values for recycled products rise and fall, based on availability and demand. By taking the long view, say three years, and comparing recycling to the steadily rising costs of a landfill in the US, the value of recycling quickly becomes apparent. If recycling values fell to zero (or even incurred a cost) recycling is often still better than paying $75-$90 a ton to bury that same product in a landfill, to say nothing of the value added to your brand.


Add Value At The Source

Form and frequency count. Often, it’s possible to offset some of the cost of transportation or even increase the value of recyclables. Source separation is a great beginning. But something as simple as a baler can reduce the volume of your recyclables, reducing both transportation costs and the space required to store these until shipping. Equipment contributing to “value adds” often pays for itself in less than a year.

Consider “Extended” Value

Does your company/brand place a premium on sustainability? Are they working toward quantifiable, measurable goals for recycling or waste diversion? Are metrics tracked and the results reported publicly? How much is this worth to your company…or put another way, what’s the reputational cost if these end? While this is a more nuanced discussion, it may be one worth having if your company’s sustainability leadership helps you manage and rationalize your recycling program during difficult economic times.

Let Us Know How You’re Doing

We would love to hear from you – please share what you have found that works and what hasn’t worked.

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