Recyclables industry reels from market crash

The turbulent economy is hitting the sale of recyclables hard in New Hampshire.

Local recyclers are stockpiling metal, cardboard, paper, glass and more because there is no demand for the recycled goods. Fuat Ari, executive director of the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, or NRRA, said many recyclables are now at a “negative cost” because of global market instability.

“The economy itself affects what’s happening to the recycling industry directly,” said Ari.

Most goods recycled in New Hampshire are sold to other countries, but Ari said this export market has “come to a halt.”

Donald Maurer, supervisor of the Solid Waste Technical Assistance section of the state Division of Waste Management, said a reason for that halt is because the Chinese market has dropped off significantly.

According to Maurer, China is the “main engine” driving the global recycling industry. The nation’s manufacturers are a major purchaser of plastics and steel, but its main import is paper, since the country does not have enough trees to make its own.

One use of the paper is to make boxes in which to export Chinese goods. But since Americans are buying less, the Chinese are not shipping as much, said Maurer. This is one factor that has led to the closing of paper mills in China, resulting in a huge decrease in demand for recycled commodities.

Maurer said that in a stable economy, there is not usually a great deal of price fluctuation for recycled goods, with prices generally hovering within a 5 to 10 percent cost bracket.

Mark Lennon, principal of the Institution Recycling Network, a Concord-based company that work to recycle any materials that can be recycled, said the value of metals has gone down 80 to 90 percent. High-quality-grade fibers have decreased in value 50 to 70 percent, and lower quality grades have gone down 90 to over 100 percent in value.

Not only are many recycled goods not turning a profit, some are actually becoming a financial burden for the company.

“In some cases,we’re having to pay to move lowgrade materials into markets where we were getting paid $50 a ton a couple months ago,” said Lennon.

It is unclear how much money is being lost because of the low value of recycled goods, but Maurer said towns and cities would be affected most.

“The impact of it, it’s going to be mostly on municipalities. They’re not going to get as much revenue from the sale of recyclables,” said Maurer. He did say that, nevertheless, municipalities would save more money recycling than to simply dispose of the goods, since it costs about $70 to send a ton of waste to a landfill.

“A small negative figure versus a $70 charge is very significant,” said Ari. “Also, it’s obvious we’re doing the right thing byway of recycling.”