Market Development Key to Growth of Recycling Industry

By David Berger, Executive Director St. Louis-

Jefferson Solid Waste Management District


Even though we recycle more than ever, Missourians still throw away resources worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.  Throwing away resources is throwing away jobs and economic opportunities.  Given the current state of the economy, we need to capture these lost resources and use them to put Missourians back to work.  Keep in mind that the recycling industry employs thousands of Missourians, but there is lots of room for the industry to continue to grow.


Recycling has undergone huge changes over the past decade.  Most of us can probably remember stacks of bins to separate materials, and those compartmentalized trailers running up and down the streets to collect the limited types of materials that could be recycled.  Now, materials can be collected in a commingled fashion and the whole process is much more efficient.  This is known as single-stream recycling, and it is now becoming the industry standard throughout the country.  Collected materials are processed at material recovery facilities (MRF’s), where the recovered materials are separated for marketing for reuse in new products.  This makes participation easy and convenient.


In life, however, there are always trade-offs.  Materials recovered from a single-stream processing method can be of lower quality and less value than source-separated materials.  Many of these materials are exported overseas.  This is a lost opportunity, and also exposes the recycling industry to significantly increased risks.  As the economy collapsed in the recession, recycling markets collapsed as well, and collected materials began to pile up as demand plummeted.


Fortunately, most of our regional recyclers were able to weather the storm and the markets for recovered materials have rebounded.  However, it does illustrate that the next step in the development of our regional recycling industry.  The next major challenge is to encourage the creation of additional local end-use markets to utilize the recovered materials that are generated by collection programs.   This can create jobs, increase the tax-base, and further increase the significant environmental benefits that recycling provides to our community.


Of course, you have to spend money to make money.  It takes a coordinated effort to encourage new businesses, and resources available to help stimulate growth in recycling have been reduced and are stretched thin.  Developing new resources is a challenging proposition, but the potential return on investment can pay dividends for years to come.  Closing the loop by creating value-added products from recovered materials will help ensure that our recycling industry can expand its success.  Recycling has been one of the few industries that have grown over the past decade, and Missouri needs to seize the opportunities available to be competitive in a 21st century global economy.