December 8, 2008
Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up
Trash has crashed.
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
“Either it goes to landfill or it begins to cost us money,” Ms. Sternberg said.
In West Virginia, an official of Kanawha County, which includes Charleston, the state capital, has called on
residents to stockpile their own plastic and metals, which the county mostly stopped taking on Friday. In
eastern Pennsylvania, the small town of Frackville recently suspended its recycling program when it became
cheaper to dump than to recycle. In Montana, a recycler near Yellowstone National Park no longer takes
anything but cardboard.
There are no signs yet of a nationwide abandonment of recycling programs. But industry executives say that
after years of growth, the whole system is facing an abrupt slowdown.
Many large recyclers now say they are accumulating tons of material, either because they have contracts
with big cities to continue to take the scrap or because they are banking on a price rebound in the next six
months to a year.
“We’re warehousing it and warehousing it and warehousing it,” said Johnny Gold, senior vice president at
the Newark Group, a company that has 13 recycling plants across the country. Mr. Gold said the industry
had seen downturns before but not like this. “We never saw this coming.”