The economy isn't only affecting jobs, banks, and car manufacturers. It's affecting trash, too.
As demand for scrap metal and used paper have waned in recent months, commodity prices for recycled materials have dropped dramatically. From September to December of last year, cardboard prices fell from $135 per ton to $35 per ton, while prices for plastic dropped from 25 cents per pound to two cents per pound. As a result, recycling plants that once paid cities for recyclable materials are starting to charge for them.
FCR, the largest recycling plant in the country, takes recyclable material from Memphis and Collierville. Though the company used to pay both cities about $25 per ton for recyclables, FCR is currently renegotiating the contracts.
"They haven't determined for sure if they will charge us to take their material, but there's talk of a possible charge," said Bill Kilp, public services director for Collierville. "The contract with them could be amended so that we don't pay them anything and they don't pay us anything, but that's still being negotiated."
Dwan Gilliom, public works director for the city of Memphis, said he doesn't expect the city will have to pay FCR to take materials, but he is negotiating a temporary resolution to the current downturn in the commodities markets. It could result in a situation similar to Collierville's, in which the city doesn't receive money from FCR but doesn't pay money out either.
Regardless of what happens, Gilliom said the city will not discontinue its recycling program. "Recycling is now an integral part of municipal solid waste management, and we do not see a return to landfilling everything," he said.
Memphis has to pay $22.98 per ton of garbage it disposes of in a landfill, so recycling still makes economic sense.
Bartlett, which has a 40 percent recycle rate, does not have curbside recycling pick-up. Though Bartlett is in a contract with FCR, assistant director of public works Bill Yearwood said the economic downturn is not affecting the town as much as it is Memphis and Collierville, because Bartlett has never been paid for recyclables.
"Our contract with FCR says they will not pay us anything and we would not pay them anything, and they're going to honor that contract," Yearwood said.
Germantown also uses FCR, but it does not have a contract with the company. Joe Nunes, neighborhood service manager for Germantown, said the town was told in December that FCR would charge them for recyclable material.
"The initial prices we've been given would still be less than disposing of the materials in a landfill," Nunes said. "But they have given us notice that their price could go higher. We know we need to be good stewards of our citizen dollars, but we want to be good stewards of our environment too."