In the early 1900s, you could enjoy a bottle of Coca-Cola and know that if you returned it, you’d get your $.05 deposit back. This simple system encouraged sustainability and put money back in your pocket. However, as our consumption habits evolved and new convenience products flooded the market, the equation became more complex. The world no longer wanted to linger in soda shops; they preferred to grab their items off the shelf and go. This led to the birth of sodas, soaps, and other super convenient products, all packaged in materials like glass, plastics, and cardboard that were destined for the local landfill.

As waste management became a growing concern and resources became scarce, the problem profoundly impacted the environment and the economy. We cherished our lifestyle, our products, and our planet, but it was clear that something had to change. This realization led to the implementation of recycling solutions. Formal programs were established to collect and process materials, new recycled products were developed, recycling education was funded, and innovation was encouraged. We embarked on a greener path, and recycling became a significant economic sector.

Today, as individuals are encouraged to recycle, companies are often expected to do so as an ethical steward of the environment. The most common question that comes up in the corporate world is, “Can my business profit from participating in a recycling program?” Professionals ponder how programs are funded and whether funding will be consistent. They analyze costs and benefits and wonder how it all can come together to compensate for organizational efforts. So, sit back and sip a Coke while digging deeper into what we call “RecycleNomics.”

It’s crucial to recognize that the costs of recycling are real. It requires innovation, infrastructure, staff, and systems to collect, process, store, transport, and sell products. Like any other business, fluctuating labor and material costs also affect the recycling industry. For instance, high gas prices translate to high transportation costs. The more we have to spend on recycling your products, the less we can pay your company. This economic reality underscores the need for businesses to carefully consider the financial implications of participating in a recycling program.

Second, it’s helpful to see recycling profit as a product of supply and demand. Let’s take paper products, for example. Commercially, paper comprises the most significant percentage of recycled goods. In a regular market, tremendous amounts of paper are utilized and recycled daily. It goes to make toilet paper, paper towels, cardboard, and thousands of other recycled products that we have come to rely on. During the pandemic, offices shut down. Schools were not in session. Paper products were barely being used or recycled. At the same time, we were told to stay in our homes. We stopped going to stores and restaurants and had everything delivered right to our door. The demand for cardboard boxes, paper towels, and toilet paper was at an all-time high, but there was not enough paper being recycled to meet the needs and plants could not keep up. Any recyclable paper available was sold to mills at a premium price, which was passed on to our customers.

With material recovery facilities across the Midwest, we collect, process, and combine materials to create large quantities of quality commodities that can be sold directly to mills for processing. The cost of these commodities, paper, cardboard, glass, and plastic, fluctuates monthly based upon supply and demand. While pandemic-level pricing won’t be commonly seen, market changes are dynamic and will impact your profit. Global economic issues could cause your profits to plunge. Or a rainy season in the south that renders trees unusable could make your program more profitable! The only constant thing is that prices will always change based on factors outside our control.

We can ensure that recycling makes sense for your company by conducting a waste assessment to develop the most profitable program possible. With three decades of experience, we have created thousands of programs that decrease waste costs, showcase environmental accountability, and provide profit. Much like a 401-k investment plan, companies who participate experience monthly fluctuations, however the long-term projection is highly positive. Recycling efforts do indeed pay off.   

Sometimes, the economic complexities of recycling are a bit hard to swallow with that soda. However, know that with complexity also comes great opportunity. The recycling industry continues to expand. More recyclable products and increased production capabilities come with more possibilities for positive and profitable programs. Look to the experts at Midwest Fiber Recycling to offer programs, support, and success now and in the future.