The fallout from Michigan’s economic troubles have affected everything from the automotive to housing industries, and now it has even reshaped the recycling market.
Until a few months ago, the University did not have to pay to recycle paper materials. However, because of the poor economy, the value of recycled materials has decreased, leaving the University to foot the bill for extra recycling costs.
The University has a recycling contract with Fcr, Inc., the private operator of Ann Arbor’s Materials Recovery Facility, which also collects the University’s trash.
Tracy Artley, recycling coordinator for the University, said the contract includes market-based pricing for paper recycling.
“When the markets are very strong and recyclable paper is worth a lot, the University either pays less to have it recycled or realizes an offset in the total amount of money we have to pay to have our trash landfilled,” Artley said in an e-mail interview.
Artley said the University generates more trash than recyclables and usually has to pay to have trash collected and sent to a landfill. The University never receives direct revenue from recycling but when the paper markets dropped a few months ago, the University went from having an offset in its trash bill to having to pay to recycle paper.
According to Artley, in October 2008 the University earned $37.18 per ton from recycled paper. In December 2008, it paid $19.48 per ton to recycle the same material.
While the University received approximately $7,300 for paper recycling in October, it still had to pay $16,500 to landfill its trash — paying $9,200 altogether.
“Fortunately, the cost of paper recycling remains cheaper than the cost of landfilling, so there continues to be an economic incentive for the University’s students, faculty and staff to continue to recycle,” Artley said.
Nancy Stone, Ann Arbor’s public services spokeswoman, said the revenue from recyclable sales always fluctuates, and MRF is “designed to weather these economic storms.”
“The cost of bringing recyclables to the MRF for sorting and transfer to factories for reuse is still cheaper than sending the same tonnage to the landfill to bury,” she said in an e-mail interview.
The decrease in the value of recyclables coincides with the University’s promotion of recycling through RecycleMania — a 10-week recycling competition between 513 schools in the United States, Canada and India.
The contest, which ends Mar. 28, challenges schools to produce the least amount of waste.
Allison Richardson, project coordinator for RecycleMania at the University, said all recyclables from the University’s residence halls and buildings are loaded into trucks and are then weighed at the MRF.
“The trucks are weighed separately for paper, mixed containers, trash, and then I take those weights at the end of every week and submit those,” Richardson said.
While the competition encourages students and faculty to recycle more than usual, the University will not receive greater revenue from the surplus materials.
“It’s not any different from the rest of the year, the 10 weeks of RecycleMania, as far as paying for (the recyclables) and how much you get for (them),” Richardson said.
This is the University’s fourth year participating in the event.
While the University has never won the trophy made out of recyclable materials, it has done well in the Gorilla Prize category of the competition, which measures total recycling tonnage.
The University is currently ranked fourth in the competition, with a little less than two months remaining in the competition.