The New York Times online edition featured an article Wednesday evening titled “China’s Big Recycling Market Is Sagging”. As the world economy staggers, commodity prices have fallen precipitously. The drop has resulted in decreased demand for recycled materials abroad. One possible cause of the decline in recycling rates may be the falling prices of raw materials. Exploration and extraction of these materials though carry hidden costs such as increased soil toxicity and freshwater contamination. The Times reported that American and European shipments of recyclable goods are being turned away by Chinese ports. According to the article prices for recovered copper have fallen more than 60% (from $8,000 to $3,000 per ton), paper has dropped roughly 80%, and tin an astonishing 98%, down to $5 per pound from $300 since 2007. The statistics are truly mind-boggling. However, the need to recycle stretches beyond the mere environmental issue. As detailed in a recent post, many of the resources on Earth are finite. While industry can mine for more precious metals, there is not an inexhaustible supply. Recycling the materials that have already been mined keeps waste out of landfills, puts people to work reclaiming materials and reduces land degradation due to mining and extraction. Over the past two decades participation in recycling programs has grown across the United States. According to the American Forest & Paper Association paper recovery rates have increased by more than 85 percent since 1990. In 2007, 56 percent of the paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered for recycling. This impressive figure equals nearly 360 pounds for each man, woman, and child in America.
Journalist Elizabeth Royte’s Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash offers an inside look at waste and where it goes. In short, waste does not go away. The law of conservation of matter dictates one simple truth: matter cannot be created or destroyed. Recycling prevents the need for disposal of materials that can reenter the manufacturing process.
- Eric Wilson