Across the country, materials such as cardboard, newspapers, plastic and metals are piling up due to the lack of buyers of such recyclable material.
Such materials are usually turned into products like car parts, book covers and boxed for electronic gadgets after recycling, but an economic downturn in the scrap market has awarded them life imprisonment in landfills instead.
“It’s awful,” said Briana Sternberg, education and outreach coordinator for an Environmental Organization, that recently stopped taking certain types of cardboard, like old cereal, rice and pasta boxes. There is no market for these, and the organization’s quarter-acre yard is already packed fence to fence.
“Either it goes to landfill or it begins to cost us money,” Ms. Sternberg said.
Nationwide recycling programs have not been abandoned, but the industry is just facing a slight slow down after years of growth. Large recyclers now say that they have accumulated tons of material because of their contracts with big cities. They claim to be waiting for a price rebound in the coming months.
The price of mixed paper has dropped from $105 to a mere $20 a ton in October, according to Official Board Markets, a newsletter that tracks paper prices. Recyclers say tin is worth about $5 a ton, down from $327 earlier this year.
This industry has seen these fluctuations in price before because the demand for such recycled material is directly linked with the markets for new products. Recyclables such as cardboard is reused as packaging for new products, rubber is used in shoe soles and metal is recycled to be used for manufacturing auto parts.
“Before, you could be green by being greedy,” said Jim Wilcox, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. “Now you’ve really got to rely more on your notions of civic participation.”
The impact of this economic downturn on individual recycling efforts varies. Most cities are continuing with their recycling programs, either because of the law or because of economics, regardless of the decline in the industry, they still prefer recycling over landfill.
The collapse of the recycling market is slowing the momentum of recycling overall, said Mark Arzoumanian, editor in chief of Official Board Markets. He said the problem would have a great impact on individual recycling businesses.
Mr. Arzoumanian also said that mills were also starting to become choosier about what they take in, rejecting cardboard and other products that they say are “contaminated” by plastic ties or similar materials.