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A Word About Recycling with Ollie Maier

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Last week we started addressing changes that are probably coming and must be made in recycling, primarily in the residential area. Today we will continue with it.

The biggest change involves contamination, the amount allowed, and the cost of removing it and/or not removing it. Currently, the Material Recovery Facility (MRF) operators try to remove as much contamination as having a cost-effective product will allow. But still a lot remains.

For example, we find bales of processed cardboard, on average contain at least five percent contaminants by weight – 92.5 pounds of junk for every 1,850-pound bale of material. In order to reduce this level to a more acceptable one, the operators would need to slow down their conveyors to allow for more sorting out of undesirable materials or add more workers to remove them.

Either solution is costly, especially since the operators are already operating on a very slim profit margin. And to reduce the amount of contamination allowed to sell to China is no small thing. The current 92.5 pounds per bale must now be only about 9 pounds, or roughly onetenth as much.

Why is selling the recyclables to China important? Only because they have been the chief buyers of many of the recyclables. For example, last year, the Chinese bought almost two-thirds of recovered paper – about 10 million tons – and a majority of the mixed plastic and half the scrap aluminum that the U.S. sold overseas.

Unfortunately, without the Chinese market, U.S. MRFs have turned to other markets in Asia and to domestic producers; but, recovered paper has flooded those markets and prices have come “crashing down.” For example, the amount received for a ton of mixed paper was about $80 per ton one year ago. Today, in many of the markets in the U.S., it’s value is less than zero.

I experienced a little of this some years ago when in charge of the recyclables at the university. Although for some time, the selling of the recyclable paper more than covered the cost of collecting it, when the price of it dropped unexpectedly and significantly, I ended up having to pay to have it taken by a company using it.

What does all this mean to you and I as recyclers? The article provided an answer: “In the short term, it means the cost of recycling [now] outweighs the value of recycling for most companies involved in the process. MRF operators who face rising costs and falling values for their commodities must pass those costs on to collection companies to survive, and collection companies, in turn, must pass on those costs to customers.”

Although some collection companies may charge more for trash service to continue, others will charge appropriately for recycling services and explain why higher prices or additional fees are warranted.

The article concluded with the fact that no one is happy about the situation we find ourselves in today, but it is happening. But please don’t stop recycling, it is still the right thing to do to help save resources for future generations and we’re sure a good solution will be found.

Now a change of subjects, which really has little to do with recycling – unless you consider many crashed vehicles are recycled. Read in a publication talking about safety on our roadways, some interesting – and almost unbelievable – figures on how many drivers on the road have been drinking.

It is estimated on any given day more than 300,000 drivers on the road are drunk, but less than one percent are arrested. And on average, a driver may have driven drunk more than 80 times before he/she is caught. And even if repeat offenders – about one-third are – have their license suspended, up to 75 percent will continue to drive without it.

Those are some sobering figures. While I’m not against a drink or two, please don’t overdo it and if you do, have someone else drive.

Till next week, do have a happy and safe 4th...


Ollie is a local citizen concerned with the environment and helping others. A retired Air Force fighter and instructor pilot, he is a graduate of Leadership San Marcos and received his degrees at Texas State University where he worked on staff before totally retiring. For questions or comments, he invites you to call him at 512-353-7432 or e-mail

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666