Recycling is one of those things we do that’s become kind of mystical in its significance. We know it’s good for the environment—it saves energy, helps preserve natural resources and decreases waste. All those completely justified warm and fuzzy feelings make it easy to forget that recycling is also a business and practical business concerns often apply. How, you ask?
Recyclable materials are a commodity, and just like any other commodity, they’re worth nothing unless you can find a buyer.
At Granger, we sell recyclables two different ways. All single-stream material that’s collected from people’s homes and businesses is sold to a single-stream sorting facility. At the sorting facility, the material is sorted (go figure) before being sent on to different processors who take the same type of material (e.g., plastic, cardboard).
The source-separated material collected at our drop-offs is sold by Granger directly to a processor, like a paper mill or cardboard mill, because all the sorting is already done.
Pricing for recyclables isn’t guaranteed, nor is it always the same.
Like many other commodities, the value of recyclable materials fluctuates. When Granger sells recycling, we have to negotiate pricing with the buyer based on the price that material is going for at the time. Pricing is affected by supply and demand, as well as how much you have (you can get a better contract if your volume is high) and how clean the material is. If there’s a lot of contamination, the processor has to do more work and that affects the price (and can even lead to them refusing to take it if the problem is severe).
You don’t always make money.
Here’s a news flash for anyone who thinks collecting recycling is a huge money maker. It’s not. We offer recycling as a service to our customers and communities and because we know it’s the right thing to do. We also hope to cover our labor, equipment and processing costs (and perhaps have a little extra), but that’s not always the case. In addition to fluctuating prices, there is a lot of overhead that comes along with picking the recycling up, sorting it, baling it and shipping it to an end user.
You have to make tough decisions.
While it would be great to accept every recyclable material out there and to offer curbside recycling to everyone in our service territory, it’s just not practical. If the expense of processing a certain material is prohibitive or if we can’t find a good market for it, we unfortunately won’t be able to take it. And if two customers who want curbside recycling are 10 miles outside of the nearest recycling route, we won’t be able to offer it to them. It’s unfortunate, but making those tough decisions means we can continue the recycling we’re already doing.