Or, as the New York Times puts it, “trash has crashed”. The economic downturn has hammered the recyclables markets, dropping the price of trash so low that it has once again become junk. No one wants to buy the material, leaving aggregators with their hands full of garbage:
The economic downturn has decimated the market for recycled materials like cardboard, plastic, newspaper and metals. Across the country, this junk is accumulating by the ton in the yards and warehouses of recycling contractors, which are unable to find buyers or are unwilling to sell at rock-bottom prices.
Ordinarily the material would be turned into products like car parts, book covers and boxes for electronics. But with the slump in the scrap market, a trickle is starting to head for landfills instead of a second life.
“It’s awful,” said Briana Sternberg, education and outreach coordinator for Sedona Recycles, a nonprofit group in Arizona that recently stopped taking certain types of cardboard, like old cereal, rice and pasta boxes. There is no market for these, and the organization’s quarter-acre yard is already packed fence to fence.
“Either it goes to landfill or it begins to cost us money,” Ms. Sternberg said.
The recyclable markets were fueled in part by demand from China, which provided a price support for the industry so strong that the value increased the closer trash was to a port. No longer. With a decline in manufacturing, China has less need for raw materials and has stopped buying the product. As a result, middlemen have switched from paying for the material now charge to accept it.
Will this be the end of recycling programs? Not immediately. Even the middlemen who have begun charging rather than buying still cost less than traditional disposal companies. They can still sell some of the material, although at a greatly reduced price and with more sorting and culling required. For most people and communities, though, recycling will go to a purely cost basis rather than providing a return.
Penn and Teller foresaw this coming. In a seminal episode of their television series Bullshit, the two exploded many myths about the recycling cause. You can see a clip of the second-season episode here.