Recycling going strong in Morenci; prices plummeting 1.7.09

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

It doesn’t take much deep thought to remember when cardboard was worth something.

As recently as September, baled cardboard could fetch at least $130 a ton. By December, the price was nearly hitting rock bottom.

Cardboard from Morenci’s recycling center once served as a good source of income to help pay the cost of operation, but it’s been several months since the city has received anything for cardboard.

“It’s under $25 a ton now,” said Heather Baker, recycling coordinator for Werlor Waste Control in Defiance.

Werlor parks a semi-trailer at Morenci’s recycling center and hauls a load of mixed recyclables back to Defiance twice a month.

Officials in the recycling industry have seen major price fluctuations in the past, but were shocked the recent plunge.

Like most every other business, the economic downturn is showing its effect on recycling, Baker said, but the word “China” is also frequently mentioned when  reasons for the change are discussed.

“China is the biggest importer of recycled materials,” Baker said, “and China is not importing anything.”

She’s heard the country has an overabundance of its own waste following construction and partial dismantling from the Olympics. The country has also been hurt by the credit crunch and industrial growth has slowed significantly.

Wastepaper is turned into cardboard to pack computers and running shoes, plastic bottles become synthetic carpet and filling for winter coats, scrap metal is melted back into aluminum cans and copper wiring—none of those products are in demand as they have been in the past.

Werlor is still accepting materials for recycling and storing as much as possible in hopes of rebounding prices.

“We’re all hoping the market improves,” Baker said, “but it probably won’t be the boom like former years.”

A few municipal recycling centers are limiting what can be brought in, such as Anchorage, Alaska, where glass is no longer collected. A county in West Virginia is asking residents to stockpile their own plastic and metal. Here and there, recycling centers are closing down rather than pay someone to haul away what was once considered valuable and is now little more than trash.

In October 2007 (the most recent paperwork available at city hall), Morenci was still earning money from two of nine items collected: aluminum cans and baled milk jugs.

Werlor collects the other items but pays no cash.

“Our recycling center doesn’t pay for itself, but it does allow people to cut down on what they put out at the curb,” said city administrator/clerk Renée Schroeder.

The city gets a big financial boost from Seneca Township. Trustees have voted for the last two years to donate $3,000 toward the recycling program, knowing that many township residents make use of the facility.

City superintendent Barney Vanderpool says that use of the facility has remained strong. In October, Werlor hauled away 12 tons of newspaper and magazines and about 1.5 tons of office paper.

Although the city has had no one working at the center for several months, visitors do a fairly good job of following the rules.

Some people are still leaving items not collected, such as Styrofoam, #6 plastic and foil pans, and occasionally people simply leave trash at the site. A few people aren’t careful with their sorting and a glass bottle will be mixed in with the plastic milk jugs.

Vanderpool said he intends to look through the applications the city received for a part-time worker at the center. The hours might be reduced from when someone was on site in the past.

He’s is delighted with the service from Werlor as he recalls the frequent trips to Wauseon that city workers had to make in the past to unload recyclables.

It’s obvious to him how important Morenci’s center has become, not just to local taxpayers but to people from the sounding area.

“There are a lot of out-of-town people,” he said. “It’s surprising how far away they come from to use it.”

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