Palmer recycling center creates financial 'safety net' as market prices drop
It’s all about the quantity and quality of the goods being dropped off at the Valley Community for Recycling Solutions (VCRS) in Palmer.
That’s why there are recycling guidelines to show customers what’s accepted. The mixed paper bin shows photographs, tissue paper and napkins aren’t welcome; all tin cans must be rinsed before being recycled.
VCRS executive director Mollie Boyer said having people separate their recyclables at home means a cleaner product on the other end.
“We don’t have contaminants like food and water that get into it, or beverage stuff. This is all just paper and that’s because our community does buy into bringing it sorted,” Boyer said.
The clean materials mean the recycling center can get a better price. Boyer said it’s crucial to have a good product people want to buy because, like oil or gold, the price of recycling fluctuates with the market.
“You never know when it goes down how long the downturn will last,” she said.
VCRS gets paid by the ton. Workers compress the goods into bales that weigh 1,400 to 1,600 pounds. Those are set off in 45,000-pound shipments, or about 30 bales depending on the material.
The center collected more than 1,700 tons last year, up 100 tons from the year before. But Boyer said they’re not getting nearly as much money since China stopped accepting lower quality recycling in 2017.
“The low-quality stuff is now flooding the market in our country that has no outlet,” she said.
The move left Western countries in a bind as they tried to find other places to send their waste, according to a 2018 article from the New York Times. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, city managers were forced to get special permission to bury about 300 metric tons of plastic after stockpiles exceeded what their storage facilities could handle. The city had previously sent 80 percent of its recycling to China, the article states.
China's ban included 24 kinds of solid waste, including certain types of plastic and unsorted paper.
The over-supply without the demand means cardboard is about half the price. At one point VCRS was lucky to make anything off mixed paper.
“The lowest we’ve been hit with so far is we have to pay $10 a ton for someone to take it because they were getting so much, the manufacturer could charge the recyclers instead of the reverse,” Boyer explained.
Bringing recycling to the Mat-Su has been a 20-year effort. Staff moved into their current facility about a decade ago and are finally settled in. Boyer said it’s now time to start thinking about the future. VCRS recently started a “sustain campaign” to bring in $1 million through grant and donations.
“We’re responsible for this really great building and all the wonderful equipment we have, but when things break down or markets go up and down, we don’t have that safety net that everyone needs,” she said.
Boyer said $500,000 would go right into their bank account to cover operational expenses when prices are low. The other $500,000 would be an endowment so they could get interest from the money.
She’s thankful people in the Valley are committed to keeping trash out of the landfill and she encourages more people to start recycling at home.
“More volume will help our bottom line as well,” she said.
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