Commodities Price Plunge Hits Recycling - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Commodities Price Plunge Hits Recycling

Burlington, Vermont - November 12, 2008

The sour economy is causing upheaval in the recycling business. The Chittenden Solid Waste District says recycling charges will go up as a result. And a steep decline in the price of commodities -- such as newsprint, plastic and metal -- is having an impact on the used furniture and appliance business as well.

Recycle North puts hundreds of thousands of dollars a year worth of used but refurbished appliances and household items into the low-income community. Some of it is in such bad condition that it's sold for scrap. And plummeting commodities prices have cut into Recycle North's revenues.

Recycle North manager Tom Longstreth told Channel 3 News, "This year we've already exceeded our budget."

The scrap is still worth something, but not nearly as much as it was three months ago. And Recycle North is being dealt a double whammy. They're losing tens of thousands of dollars in the value of scrap metal at the same time that the bad economy is driving more people through the front door.

Longstreth said the loss of revenue cuts into the amount of household items the business can give away to its poorest customers. "In August we were getting paid by the folks who were taking this stuff," he said. "Hauling it, trucking it, $103 a ton. It went down to $60 a ton in September, and in October it was $22.50."

In fact, the bottom has dropped out of the value of commodities, from aluminum to paper and plastics -- to the point where individuals and businesses might have to pay to have it taken away. That certainly has been the case before. But Moreau says this time there's no way to know what commodities prices will do in the future.

"We've seen commodity prices rise and fall, and have volatility," he said. "The difference with this one is the entire commercial credit and the financial piece of this. So with it we have no idea how long this is going to last."

Moreau said the district maintained a rainy day fund to help cover losses if and when commodities prices fell. But the decline has been so steep -- and so unprecedented -- that trash haulers will see a sharp increase in the fees they pay just to make the district balance its books.

"We're going to go from paying a hauler seven dollars from within the district to charging them twenty dollars tip fee," Moreau said. "That's a 27-dollar turnaround," he said.

Moreau said the tip fee increase for haulers will be passed onto homeowners. But even with the added revenue, the solid waste district will have enough to balance its books only for another six months. Unless commodities prices rise again, everyone -- including the solid waste district -- and people just looking for inexpensive home furnishings -- will feel the pinch.

Andy Potter - WCAX News

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