Recycling Markets: Remember Caveat Emptor

The Pennsylvania Recycler

This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of The Pennsylvania Recycler and appears here with permission of the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania and Hoffmann Publications.

We hear about recycling market trends in nearly every recycling publication. Sometimes we hear that markets are strong, then weak, then trending up or trending down. The Green Fence, global competition, a weak manufacturing sector and demands for increased recycling (at no cost, of course) by elected officials all become important considerations for us. So what is a recycling coordinator to do?

First, take a deep breath and relax. Second, if you remember nothing else, remember to base your marketing decisions on the following axiom: caveat emptor, or if you prefer, let the buyer beware.

I am consistently amazed at the number of times recycling coordinators are sold on a promise of strong prices for recyclables and told not to worry about what is going to happen in the future. "Trust us...we know the markets and you don't," or so we are told.

Often we are given some 'magic' formula and told that we should broaden the range of materials we collect in a single container-because there are 'strong global markets.' We are also told not to worry about contamination issues because the markets will absorb these costs. If we completely trust those who tell us not to worry we may find ourselves feeling like a victim of global forces. In the end, we may be left facing programmatic problems.

One thing is certain, recycling markets respond to the laws of economics, especially supply and demand, and if we fail to carefully consider market forces, we may, and many of us have, find ourselves on the harsh side of a market decision.

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