Recession shows how recycling shouldn’t be run

This post stood out to me on FreeMarketMojo, linking to an article in the San Fransisco Chronicle about a $4 million dollar budget hole (40% of the total budget deficit)  that the city of Berkeley must endure thanks to their poorly run recycling program.  A combination of misplaced incentives and recessionary forces helped lower the amount of actual waste that consumers could be charged.   Commodities are usually what help recycling programs keep afloat.

The economics of recycling has always been subsidized by commodities’ resale values. But those also collapsed over the past year. Paper went from being worth $187 a ton in July 2008 to $46 a ton in January 2009 and $116 a ton in December 2009. Aluminum went from $1,908 a ton to $679 to $1,200, Clough said.

I want to point this out because it shows how important commodity prices are to the viability of recycling enterprises. While commodity prices during this recession had been depressed significantly enough to deflate their budget cushion, spreading the risk of volatile prices, especially for more valuable commodities, could help reduce budget woes.

Because Berkeley provides its own service, it lacks funds to buy many technologies required to recycle even more products, like certain plastics or concrete.

Surely Berkley will want to look into increasing the rate of waste that is taken to their recycling centers in order to increase the amount that could be processed and sold. Providing proper incentives will help, unlike what Berkley is currently doing. But finding money to invest in other product offerings, like recycling plastic or concrete, or even e-waste, can hedge against depressed prices and provide economies of scale, especially if services were expanded state wide.

I just want to make these comments as they help point out how important a large scale operation is, and how sustainably high commodity prices can help make recycling programs economically viable.

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