Philadelphia’s recycling program no longer a cash cow

    Curbside residential recycling in Philadelphia is up about 50% from a year ago. But the increase in recycling comes at a time when prices for recycled material have plunged.

    Curbside residential recycling in Philadelphia is up about 50% from a year ago. But the increase in recycling comes at a time when prices for recycled material have plunged.

    Listen:
    [audio: 091116sprecycle.mp3]

    After the recession hit, the city went from making millions of dollars off their recyclables, to paying to have them hauled away. In 2008, the city earned about $2 million re-selling used glass, paper and plastic. In 2009, that net gain dropped to just $100,000 dollars.

    Mark Mehall is the Director of the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania. Mehall says between 2006 and 2008, recyclers did well selling their material to industrializing nations like China and India.

    Mehall: The market demand, especially in China, India and other foreign markets was such that it was really spurring large scale municipal recycling programs such as Philadelphia. The market downturn has really affected the efforts to build on those programs.

    Mehall says recycling is a boom and bust industry, and right now, he says glass is worthless, and other recyclables are nearly worthless. But he sees the market starting to rebound.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.