As Scrap Prices Plunge, Metal Recycling Slows

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Green, Supply & Demand

On MetalMiner, we’ve covered a wide variety of stories that deal with metal recycling — dismantling a stadium, finding a new life for e-waste, and uncovering green innovations in the metals industry. But as scrap metal prices plunge, so does the collective environmental conscience. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently took an in-depth look at the current recycling “rough spot,” while Times-New Online focused on the metals industry this week and reported the surprising downfall of one metal recycling business. Apparently, most Americans prefer to save instead of sell junk metal when no “green,” or cash flow, results from being environmentally-friendly.  

As we witness declining demand for scrap metal, as well as reduced scrap metal prices, many recycling businesses face lay-offs and closings. “I only have one employee, and I have nothing for him to do. He painted the bathroom the other day,” Linda Jones, the owner of Tennessee-based Rogersville Recycling, told Times-News Online.

“I do know of a lot of smaller recyclers who have already gone out of business,” shared Jones, who is holding tight to a load of copper she bought for $2.45 per pound. Now, she can only receive 90 cents per pound for the same item.

Metal mills don’t need as much scrap metal right now, particularly after economic troubles. “Linda [Jones] said the car crushers, who at the peak of the recycling craze this summer paid $12.50 per 100 pounds, are down to about $4, and that other steel is down to $1.50 a pound,” Times-Online News revealed in the site’s Sunday article. Since it’s becoming cheaper to use raw materials instead of recycled materials, most people don’t even bother recycling material or purchasing recycled material. To add more trouble for these businesses, various laws meant to stop metal thefts have hurt recycling business, too.

At the same time, Bruce Savage, vice president of communications for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., says recycling markets should return when the economy rebounds, “probably in mid-2009 or 2010.” But don’t forget: although it might not put green in your pocket right now, recycling can still have environmental benefits.

–Amy Edwards

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