The materials you place in the recycling cart can become part of new goods instead of wasting landfill space or littering our environment. Your bottles, cans, and mixed paper become commodities in a global marketplace for raw materials.
Just as the prices for agricultural commodities, such as cotton, cattle, or cantaloupe, vary based on supply and demand, so do the commodity values of recyclables. Commodity prices for recyclables fluctuate based on the demand for the end products they are a part of, as well as the relative cost of competing materials. Recycled commodity prices are also affected by markets for the virgin materials they contain
Long-term trends in international trade also affect commodity markets. It is no secret that over the last 30 years China has emerged as a preferred manufacturing location for many products. In the past, shipping containers delivering Chinese products to North America often returned empty to be reloaded again and again. This one-way movement of finished product created a real opportunity to transport recycled commodities from North America to China. In 2000, 78% of the 769 million pounds of PET collected in the U.S. was used domestically. By 2008, the amount collected nearly doubled to 1.451 billion pounds but domestic use was only 42%. The exported portion exploded from 170 million pounds to 836 million pounds over that period.
After 2008, the PET collected for recycling grew but at a slower pace as the world economy slowly recovered from the Great Recession. In 2015, 1.797 billion pounds of recycled PET were collected. Between 2008 and 2015, however, the exported amount was cut to 424 million pounds while the amount used domestically more than doubled to 1.373 billion pounds. By that year, the portion used domestically was back up to 76%, nearly the same as it had been in 2000. When recovered bottles are used domestically, they support U.S. manufacturing employment, feeding American factories with raw materials and creating jobs closer to home.
On July 18, 2017, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection announced that the nation would stop accepting certain types of solid waste by the end of the year. While the specifics are still to be determined, Chinese imports of multiple types of plastics, textiles, mixed fibers (paper products), and other materials will likely be reduced. This will undoubtedly have an impact on global recycled commodity markets, and on the costs of providing recycling and waste collection services in the U.S.
You can do your part to make sure negative economic impacts are kept to a minimum. Be sure to place only approved materials in your recycling cart. Only place clean, dry materials into the recycling. Rinse and allow all containers to drip-dry before placing them in the cart. A relatively small amount of contamination can turn an entire load of valuable commodities into waste.
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