Commentary: Scrap Hits the Skids

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, February 13, 2009

The market for all that paper, plastic, and scrap metal we throw in the blue bin every week has tanked. Unsold recyclables are beginning to pile up. Scrap dealers are asking local governments to renegotiate prices they pay for materials city and counties collect, or forego payments all together.

So, how bad are things? Well, scrap paper which was selling for $130 dollars a ton last September, fell to just $35 a ton in October. All that paper used to go to China, where it was processed and returned to the United States in the form of packaging for Chinese-made electronics and toys. As our economy has crashed, so have Chinese exports and their market for our scrap paper.

The recession has exposed our dangerous dependence on foreign buyers. In the long run, this country needs to build a domestic market for recyclables. Convince producers of everything from tissue paper to automobiles to use more recycled content.

In the short run, we can’t allow the current trash glut to dampen our recycling efforts. Californians recycle an impressive 58% of their garbage, one of the highest recycling rates in the world. That ethic needs to be encouraged, not discarded.


Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.