Archive for the ‘recycling’ Category

Crashing Recyclables

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

There’s an interesting piece in the December 7 NY Times: “Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up.”  The story relates how the price of paper, plastic and metals from recycling has crashed along with the economy.  Untold tons of recycled material are piling up, either lacking for buyers or with those holding it unwilling to sell at present prices.  The cost of recycled tin, for example, has crashed to $5 a ton, down from $327 a ton earlier this year.  Not so long ago enormous quantities of these materials were being shipped to China to feed its seemingly insatiable apetite for raw materials.  Now the collapse in the price of these materials has people pondering the future of recycling. 

This enormous decline got me thinking.   What happens when the economy starts moving again?  China’s economy has slowed but it has not stopped by any means, projecting annual growth of 9% still rather than the previous 12%.   The price of these recycled materials reflects the general pessimism about the economy at the moment, as does the low price of oil.  If oil recovered to its previous record price this would be about a 300% increase from where it is now.  If recycled tin recovers this would be a 6500% increase.  It sounds like an opportunity to me for some enterprising individual to quietly buy up some of this tin and sit on it for a while.  The questions how long will you have to hold it and how much will it cost to hold it?  Perhaps a Warren Buffet of recycling will figure this one out and make a killing.

The future of much of the materials we use will be from recycling though and not raw materials.  In my issue of On Earth magazine from the NRDC, “Buried Treasure” on page 18 describes how the landfills in Japan are one of the worlds great mineral deposits, urban mines containing huge quantities of gold, silver and other metals in discarded electronics.  Better yet to find more effective ways to recycle this material in the first place than digging it up later, of course.