Time to think smarter on recycling
About 30 months ago, there was a push to get the city and Lawtonians excited about recycling products such a newspapers, cans, cardboard and plastic bottles. The city was very reluctant to get into a second curbside-collection service. A private firm from Wichita Falls was willing, if it could get 5,000 subscribers.
It didn’t, and the effort dropped.
Turns out that recycling has fallen flat on its face — on hard times. While it is a good idea to keep items out of landfills, alternatives sill must be explored. Truth is there is a smaller and smaller market for the discarded items and there is more costs than profits. Once, it was a good business, but it has changed.
One Sunday, this corner noted that a newspaper recycling was once vibrant here. A company at first offered copy paper to the schools if consumers would put their discarded new and computer paper (no telephone books, thank you) in a couple of bins on the south side of The Lawton Constitution’s parking lot. Ultimately, a glut changed the market and the incentive went away.
The glut caused the bins to overflow at times and it was hard to get the out-of-town hauler to come empty them. Readers, wanting to do the right thing, were unhappy when the bins were overflowing, and more unhappy when they disappeared. For the most part, old issues go to the landfill anyway.
For a while, scrap steel and aluminum were hot commodities, too. Best we remember, unknown thieves sawed off sections of the aluminum bleachers at a school ball field and sold them for scrap. Abandoned railroad tracks had joint plates removed, while many old, rusted, scrap farm implements were hauled off, with owners happy to get rid of them. The price was right.
Will the Trump administration’s new tariffs on those metals again raise prices and bolster recycling? That is unknown.
Another factor, according to stories last week in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, is that China, the largest importer of disposables, stopped accepting most disposables earlier this year, “upending the U.S. recycling industry.”
“As a result, some recyclers have focused on cleaner loads of paper, plastic and corrugated cardboard, which can fetch higher prices. And cities and trash haulers are seeking alternative ways to manage such waste, while the abundance of hard-to-recycle plastics has revived some companies’ uses of the stuff to produce fuel,” wrote the Journal’s Bob Tita last week.
Cleaner is a key word. It means paper, plastic and cans without garbage and other residue. The town of Oakland, N.J., for instance, is earning $10 a ton for its cleaner scrap paper.
“China, the biggest customer of U.S. scrap material, for years accepted loads of recyclables with as much as a fifth spoiled or trash. Now, China, is rejecting shipments with contaminants above 0.5 percent, a level U.S. scrap dealers are having a hard time meeting.”
One would think exporters would have learned. Not that many years ago, American wheat export sales were threatened because foreign buyers complained about too much dirt being mixed in with the grain that they bought. If U.S. firms want the business, they have to think smarter and clean up their acts to compete worldwide. China is thinking smarter all the time.
Another story in the WSJ last week, “How China skirts America’s anti-dumping tariffs on steel” says a lot and maybe should be copied by the domestic recycle-waste industry.
Reporter Matthew Dalton in Smederevo, Serbia, and Lingling Wei in Beijing reported that a nearly broke Serbian state-owned steel mill was taken over by China three years ago. It now is running at nearly full capacity with the mission of maintaining steel sales for China, while avoiding pre-Trump era and recently enacted 25 percent, anti-dumping tariffs. The tariffs hit the steel mills on mainland China, but not those it owns abroad.
Maybe Americans can find a friendly nation hungry to earn foreign currency, and with all the needed domestic assets — water, labor and a seaport, etc. — to process clean waste to make recyclables a good business again and keeping them out of our landfills.
Review sentencing laws
President Trump granted clemency to a 63-year-old grandmother serving a life sentence for “non-violent drug offenses” committed in the 1990s. As we understand it, there is no parole in the federal system.
Trump granted clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, who was a model prisoner, after a plea at the White House by actress, businesswoman and celebrity Kim Kardashian West.
Trump, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, the pardon and parole board, and other correction officials should look at all similar cases and consider, for those who have earned it, reducing our prison population.
— The Lawton Constitution