Two years ago, the recycling industry was dealt a blow when China shut the doors on American trash. The country lost one of the biggest consumers of recycling material, and commodity prices went …
Two years ago, the recycling industry was dealt a blow when China shut the doors on American trash. The country lost one of the biggest consumers of recycling material, and commodity prices went tumbling.
Despite the challenges, Powell Valley Recycling presses on in hopes the market will turn around.
Last year, the collection center shipped 782,450 pounds of material, which was most of what they collected. To date this year, they’ve taken in more than 840,550 pounds.
While a greater volume of material is arriving at the center on the west side of Powell, only 500,500 pounds have shipped to recyclers. Over 170 tons of cardboard — some 340,000 pounds — sit on the Powell Valley Recycling site and can’t be shipped, because it would cost more to get it to the recycler than they’d be paid.
“Some of that is going to start to deteriorate,” said Marynell Oechsner, president of the Powell Valley Recycling Board, but “we’re not shipping it, because we’d go in the hole if we [did].”
Oechsner said the nonprofit organization is not losing money at this point, and as of the end of October, they are about $10,000 in black. They also received a $2,500 grant, which they can use toward operations. They still haven’t spent any of it.
Park County provides a subsidy that pays for the center’s mortgage, and Powell residents pay $2 a month on their trash bill, which supports the organization’s labor costs. The hope is that by diverting trash from the landfill, the county and city will make that money back in landfill savings.
Problems will mount, however, if equipment breaks or other unforeseen events arise. In the past, the recycling organization made a number of improvements when commodity prices were good and revenues were high. Oechsner hopes that’s enough to keep things humming until they have some more money to put back into the operation.
She said white paper is one of the main materials sustaining the collection center. So far this year, they’ve shipped 110,760 pounds of it.
A few other commodities are still making slight margins, such as newspaper. Aluminum also does well, but the amount of material collected tends to be small.
“We can only drink so much beer in a lifetime,” joked Mark Browning, a member of Powell Valley Recycling’s board.
PVR has shipped 162,880 pounds of newspaper to date this year, compared to 14,010 pounds of aluminum.
The main barrier to the market is the lack of recyclers in the United States. With China consuming less, America would need to have more processing facilities to increase demand and improve the commodity markets.
“Recycling is a social movement combined with a business movement,” Browning explained. “Even though people in the community want to help out and do something good for the area, when the business is not there, you can’t do it. It’s impossible.”
Mark Browning, a teacher at Southside Elementary School, and member of the Powell Valley Recycling Board, is recruiting the next generation of recyclers with a pilot program at the school.
Browning joined the board last summer and discovered a lot of the recycling coming from Southside wasn’t sorted properly.
“It wasn’t even going into recycling. I was like, ‘That stinks,’ because there’s a lot of kids and a lot of teachers who are interested in recycling. But they just don’t know how,” he said.
The Southside students are now learning what can and can’t be recycled, and why it’s important to sort recyclables into proper bins.
Volunteer students then go around to all the classrooms and collect the recycling bins. Classes with perfect recycling scores — no trash in the recycling and no recycling in the trash — are entered into a drawing for a pizza party.
The program has gotten a great response from students, Browning said, with 20 signing up to be volunteers.
To get the kids thinking about being recycling leaders, Browning asked the volunteers to explain — on a permission slip to be signed by their parents — how they would convince someone to become a great recycler.
“If it were a little kid, I would say that they use stuff that we recycle to make toys. So if we don’t recycle, we won’t have any toys,” wrote Southside student Charlytt Patton.
Gavin Wolfe took a more direct approach.
“Tell them that we need water to live and the ocean is becoming a garbage dump,” he wrote on his permission slip.
Madily Croft suggested failing to recycle would “hurt animals such as turtles,” and Tucker Muecke warned that things that aren’t biodegradable would “make our Earth a mess.”
In its initial phase, Southside’s pilot program is only collecting white paper, which, unlike cardboard has a pretty good market, However, Browning hopes to expand to other materials as the kids get the hang of it.
“That’s just where we’re starting,” he said.
And if all goes well, Browning can possibly expand the effort to other schools.