Framingham Coordinator: Recycling Markets on the Rebound

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By Stephen Sarnosky

City of Framingham Recycling Coordinator

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FRAMINGHAM – It’s been four years since U.S. and global recycling markets were thrown into turmoil due to China’s refusal to be the world’s recycling dumping ground.

In 2018, China, the world’s largest recyclable materials buyer, enacted their “China Sword” policy. China stopped accepting contaminated material from North American recycling processors, and its affect has been referred by some in the recycling industry as cataclysmic.

Domestic markets were turned upside down and processors had to quickly “clean up their act”. With no buyer’s insight, unsold recyclable material quickly piled up awaiting an uncertain future. As a result, recycling costs to municipalities such as Framingham experienced marked increases in disposal costs to already strained budgets. Some municipalities went so far as to discontinue their recycling programs all together. The money just wasn’t there.


 
Recycling markets behave similar to financial markets and experience highs and lows. Processed
recyclable materials are treated as commodities and are bought and sold on the open market. Recently,
these markets have begun to rebound and as a result municipalities are experiencing stabilized disposal
costs. So what has changed?
 
Demand for recyclable materials has begun to increase, especially cardboard. U.S. paper mills have
increased capacity in order to meet consumer demand and more mills have come on line as a result. In
addition, sharply rising oil prices have resulted in higher costs to produce raw plastics. Recycled plastics
are now looking good to manufactures and are less expensive to refine into finished products.


 
The COVID crisis has also played a role in recycling market rebounds. Restaurant closures and schools
transitioning to home learning models have reduced cardboard material availability, causing processors
to turn to municipal recyclable material to fuel demand. Pizza boxes, for example, that were once
viewed as the undesirable are now being accepted by paper mills as a legitimate material source.
 
The rebound is good news for municipalities Recycling programs.

The lesson learned here is that recycling programs should not take for granted the
cost associated with recycling and should not expect a neutral or net gain from recycling revenue to
fund their programs. Savvy recycling programs will take into account market fluctuations and prepare
budgets for the endless rollercoaster ride that has been occurring within the waste and recycling
industry.

editor

email: editor@FraminghamSource.com call or text at 508-315-7176


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