The city of Madison last week boasted that its automated refuse and recycling collection saves $1.4 million a year. But these savings could be largely wiped out by a crashing market for recycled materials.
"We provide the feedstock for industry, and they're not making anything right now," says George Dreckmann, the city's grand poobah of recycling. He predicts a huge drop in revenues.
Dreckmann recently tabulated that the price for newspaper will have fallen from $153 per ton in September to about $75 a ton in November and December. Other projected per-ton declines: cardboard, from $89 to $50; mixed paper, $63 to $10; plastic milk jugs, $860 to $300; detergent bottles, $383 to $75; and steel, $194 to $40.
Prices for aluminum cans are also falling, from $1,700 to $1,250 per ton, but Dreckmann calls this "a normal seasonal decline."
In September, the city earned $171,000 from sales of recyclables, which it pays Waste Management to sort and process.
In November and December, Dreckmann predicts the total take will be $68,000 per month, about $100,000 less than before.
The market, he says, "won't rebound until the end of the first quarter" in 2009,
if then. In early March, he'll redo his projections; if things don't improve "we may have to put in for an additional appropriation."
Madison is fortunate in that Waste Management has locked in recycling markets, albeit not prices. Communities and processors without these may be stockpiling. Meantime, recyclables are not ending up in landfills. That, says Dreckmann, would require waivers from the state.