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plastic recycling bales Environmental Leader

Can Waste Management Save the Recycling Industry?

plastic recycling bales Environmental LeaderThese are troubling times for the recycling industry, according to an article in Fortune.

The demand for and price of recycled material is down. Low oil prices have made it more cost effective for producers to make new plastic than to use recycled material. And because plastic is so inexpensive to produce, manufacturers are opting to use it instead of paper, which means Americans are recycling less paper and more plastic.

As a result, the material ratio of recyclables is shifting, making them more expensive to process and the bales less profitable to sell. Increased contamination in the recycling stream is adding even more to processing costs.

Over the last four years, Waste Management has not only seen its profits drop, it has actually reported losses during some quarters. The company will have closed 10 percent of its facilities by the end of the year, and another 10 percent are in danger of closing. Other recycling companies are closing up shop altogether.

“This is a crisis for the future of recycling,” David Steiner, CEO of Waste Management, is reported as saying. “Momentum has been up…for the last 20 years, and now it’s stalling.”

The company, however, is not planning to shutter its recycling business completely. Waste Management looking to save its recycling business by auditing waste streams and buckling down on cities that are going over agreed-to contamination rates. The company has launched a comprehensive campaign to educate people on proper recycling practices and is also renegotiating contracts so that it can use recycling revenues to cover processing costs before sharing the earnings with cities.

Some recyclers are criticizing Waste Management’s CEO for using loaded words like “crisis” to describe what they believe are cyclical conditions impacting the industry. Others say Waste Management cannot claim to be a victim of the problems it created with the establishment of the single-stream recycling system.

Steiner, however, says that a sense of urgency is needed to spur the industry-wide changes that are necessary to increase recycling rates and protect recyclers from changes in the commodity markets.

Photo credit: recycling bales via Shutterstock

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7 thoughts on “Can Waste Management Save the Recycling Industry?

  1. China quits buying Waste Management’s poorly sorted product and Waste Management declares a crisis. They eliminated all consumer sorting both at homes and by local volunteers thereby losing years of user training and expertise.

  2. It appears that the Recycling (and Waste) Industry have lost control of their business models – especially with commodities. We will achieve the circular economy someday. But given the current atmosphere, don’t assume that achievement will be led from the W&R industry leadership.

    There is going to be a tsunami sea-change in the near future as we flip the leadership to the consumers – municipalities, cities, campuses, military bases, corporate campuses, corporate real estate, shopping malls, etc. These customers are very serious about Zero Waste and reducing their carbon footprint. The W&R winners will be those who are listening and making adjustments. When we speak to groups about W&R Data Automation “From Cart to Report”, we many times arm our audience with: “Be prepared to pay to play; or you’ll be getting in your competitor’s way”. Automated data acquisition trucks, software, analytics and reporting are absolutely necessary to meet their customer’s needs – accurate and timely data.

    This sea change will also require a share of leadership from original product producers as they’re also listening to their customers. How to build products so there is nothing to throw away – all part of the circular economy! As a great example, it takes me 90 seconds to change an HP Laser Printer toner cartridge, box up the old, close the package and slap on a UPS label. 90 seconds! HP understands the customer and has responded at the front end of the circular economy.

  3. Single stream has messed up recycling for all of the local, independent recycling businesses. WM’s name says it all – “Waste.” As far as protecting recyclers from changes in the commodities market, that’s the nature of the business and if you don’t understand that when you get into the industry, then you shouldn’t be in it.

  4. Waste Management has always been a leader” FIRST IN SERVICE”. Recycling is a necessity and has growth. Zero waste is the mission. Owned 4 waste companies, waste broker, worked for WM 9 years taking them from 1 county to 26 counties. WM needs to step up recycle all waste. Charge the fees across the board. Recycling is not a charity.
    Landfills are history. Remanufacturing, using recycled materials to produce products, and rebuilding soils through composting food wastes, recyclables that degrade leaving an enriched soil fertile product is the NEW FACE OF WASTE MANAGEMENT. DAVID STEINER MOVE AHEAD. BRAVO!

  5. As a EU citizen I would love to say a few things. Waste is an issue that aff ects us all. We all produce waste: on average, each of the 500 million people living in the EU throws away around half a tonne of
    household rubbish every year. This is on top of huge amounts of waste generated from activities such as manufacturing (360 million tonnes) and construction (900 million tonnes), while water supply and energy production generate another 95 million tonnes. Altogether, the European Union produces up to 3 billion tonnes of waste every year. This is so much, may be too much!

    Whether it is re-used, recycled, incinerated or put into landfill sites, the management of household and industrial waste comes at a financial and environmental cost. First, waste must be collected, sorted and transported before being treated which can
    prove expensive and result in greenhouse gas emissions
    and pollution of air, soils and water. One major challenge is the fact that a large amount of the waste generated each year – some 100 million tonnes – is hazardous, containing heavy metals and other toxins. These substances make the waste particularly difficult to treat as special processes are needed to deal with the hazardous components.

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