Markets are improving for recycled materials

djournal-recycle-newsBy Becky Gillette

Mississippi Business Journal

JACKSON – One difficulty with making a recycling program work is finding adequate buyers for the recyclable materials who will turn those into a new product.

But markets for recyclables are improving with China purchasing a lot from the U.S. and major retailers such as Wal-Mart requiring their suppliers to recycle more.

“Wal-Mart has been a big player there,” said Mark Williams, administrator of the solid waste and recycling programs at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. “Wal-Mart has a scorecard that rates manufacturers on the recyclability of the product, and the amount of recycled content in the product. Coca-Cola is another large company that has done a lot towards recycling. It helps to create markets.”

Waste reduction and recycling are also increasingly important to manufacturers. For example, Toyota has a zero-waste initiative with the intention of no waste from manufacturing being sent to landfills. PACCAR, which has a $400-million truck engine plant in Columbus, is another company with a major focus on recycling.

“Manufacturers are really looking for recycled materials and ways to avoid putting any waste in landfills,” Williams said. “Our state has to provide those kinds of recycling services to our manufacturing groups to be able to attract them. They are looking for places that can provide those services. As a state we have to take advantage of that by increasing collections of recycled materials in the state and building the recycling infrastructure so we can grow economically and reap the benefits of that environmentally, as well.”

The Southeast Recycling Development Council is focused on improving recycling opportunities for manufacturers. The council helps educate legislators about the importance of the recycling industry.

“We are seeing success in states that have really invested in growing the recycling industry,” Williams said. “We hope Mississippi can take advantage of opportunities like that, as well.”

Recycling consortium

A major effort to grow the municipal recycling infrastructure in the state is the Mississippi Recycling Coalition, a group started in 1997 by MDEQ, Mississippi Beautiful, some of the larger recycling companies in the state, and the Mississippi Beverage Association.

“Those groups got together to form this consortium to have an independent voice that focused on municipal recycling,” Williams said. “It is an all-volunteer group. Virtually all of the states in the Southeast have similar type organizations. MDEQ provides a lot of support to groups as part of the mission to promote recycling in the state.”

The Mississippi Recycling Coalition held its annual conference at the end of October, attracting 130 participants to hear programs such as a “pay as you throw” presentation. Pay as you throw charges for garbage disposal, but recycling is free.

“This is an incentive type program that can increase recycling,” Williams said. “The more you recycle, the less you pay. We don’t currently have a pay as you throw program in Mississippi, but we have had interest in the program and wanted communities to consider it as an option.”

Markets for recycled materials are improving after the recession that began in 2008 sent markets down. Export markets are continuing to grow. China and India purchase a lot of recyclables from the U.S. and other countries, as well.

“China has a growing economy, and we are going to continue to see it be a strong recycling market,” Williams said. “The use of plastics and plastic recycling is growing. The largest HDPE plant in the world, KW Plastics, is in Troy, Ala. The amount of HDPE they get from Alabama is only enough to run the plant for two days a year. The bottom line is they need more plastics.”

Williams said it makes no sense to bury things in a landfill that can have manufacturing uses. Materials should be used over and over again rather than only once and then buried in the ground.

“We have to go out and collect that critical mass and help develop the recycling infrastructure in a state that has been very landfill based,” he said.

To help encourage that, MDEQ has a program providing a regional recycling cooperative grant to encourage local governments to work together to have joint programs. Like any business activity, recycling succeeds on more volume and quality.

“In Mississippi, that is difficult because the state is largely rural,” Williams said. “To get a critical mass of materials is difficult. We try to spur local governments to work together on cooperative type efforts where they collect materials together — which provides better success for sustaining a recycling program.”

The market for recycled glass in the U.S. is shrinking, and can make it difficult to find places to send glass for recycling.

“Glass markets are not very good,” Williams said. “Glass has been a tough market to grow. A lot of things influence that. Many folks are turning away from glass to plastics and other types of cartons to sell products. And glass is difficult to manage. If it gets into paper or plastics that are being recycled, it makes a mess. There is a safety problem for handlers. Glass can cut, and fibers can be inhaled. That said, there are markets for glass.”

Mississippi law requires local governments to have a strategy to reach the goal of recycling 25 percent of waste. But there are no penalties, so it can be difficult to get local government to implement strategies to recycle. Primarily that is done through solid waste management plans that must be filed with MDEQ.

“Every community has to have that,” Williams said. “Most of the plans developed in the 1990s are 20-year plans that are coming to closure now. We are working with communities around the state to take that goal seriously when updating those plans.”

Click video to hear audio