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Global recycling issue shuts down paper recycling in Havre


Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Cardboard recycling containers are half-filled out front of Havre Day Activity Center Thursday in Havre. The center is still accepting corrugated carboard and bagged shredded paper.

Due to a global shift in the recycling market, Havre Pacific Steel and Recycling and other recycling companies have put a hold on accepting mixed paper and some other items until new opportunities arise.

"Right now, we don't want to continue accepting paper with no outlet because we have no way to store it, to hold on to it and wait for that market to come back," Havre Pacific Steel and Recycling Manager Anthony Bowden said. "If folks want to do that, if they want to hold on to their stuff until that market comes back, that's fine.

"It will come back eventually," he said. "I don't know how long it's going to be, but it will come."

Last week Havre Pacific Steel and Recycling and other recycling entities around the world put a hold on accepting mixed paper and a few other recyclables due to a policy shift by China, the world's leading recyclables buyer, Bowden said. At the beginning of the year, the country established new policies - it will close its doors to loads of waste paper, metals or plastics unless it is 99.5 percent pure.

"It's not a level of cleanliness that's in there," Bowden said, adding that for many recycling entities, 99.5 percent is unattainable.

The Asian market used to take a lot of the papers, plastics, cardboard and other recyclables, but a year ago, China decided it was no longer going to accept mixed commodities, Bowden said. The market has become dependent on China to accept these commodities and the United States doesn't have a lot of domestic demand for it, not a lot of places within the country which are processing those products. 

"It's a supply and demand issue," he said. "There's way too much supply and not enough demand."

"Now there's so much there's too much. You essentially have to pay to get rid of this stuff," he added. "A year-and-a-half, two years ago paper was worth something. If you collected it, baled it, you could ship it to be processed. You had to pay for it to be shipped there, but that paper had value, you would be paid back for your shipping and your process."

But people have to pay for it to be taken, he said. Havre Pacific Steel and Recycling used to work with its Great Falls location to consolidate loads and ship them to market, but the Great Falls location has also put a hold on accepting any paper as well.

"Our outlet for recycled mixed paper has dried up," he added. "We no longer have a way of getting rid of it. We have no where to send it."

Other recycling facilities globally are having the same problem, he said. He used to work at Pacific Steel and Recycling in Medicine Hat, Alberta, where Pacific operated with utilities that picked up the paper to be recycled, along with garbage, and brought the paper to Pacific. It was then sorted and put into bales before shipping to market.

The Medicine Hat facility still has to accept the paper when the utilities bring it, but now the facility is sitting on it, stacking it up and waiting until it can be shipped off. 

The problem is also impacting Havre Day Activity Center, a non-profit organization which employs people with developmental disabilities.

Havre Day Recycling Lead Trainer Shayne Butcher said that the center, although it is still accepting some paper for recycling, is sitting on bales, trying to get rid of them to make room for the newer ones.

"The market is, I don't know if I could say it's an all-time low, but we are definitely stocked up on all of our bales and not a lot of people want them," he said. "It's hard to get rid of at the moment."

The center still accepts corrugated cardboard as well as bagged shredded paper, he said. It also does confidential shredding of documents and accepts aluminum cans.

The center normally sends the bales of paper to the west coast, mostly, to be processed.

He added that the center has had a recycling facility for at least 17 years, has about 50 businesses involved with the program, and several clients, people with developmental disabilities, who do most of the bundling and shredding and so on.

"Safety is our main concern," he said. "We are here to provide a service for them."

The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Bowden said Pacific Steel is still accepting the sorted plastic and all metals, from aluminum cans to vehicles. He added they are also now accepting microwaves.

A big part of the problem is sloppy recycling, people throw things in thinking it's recyclable when it's not, causing an issue for processors, he added. He said that until something is done in the market which opens up new possibilities, people can either throw away their paper or reuse it for other things, such as compost.

"If you want to recycle it, have somewhere you can keep it dry and clean," he said. "You can sort it, there is still a market for clean office paper, shredded paper. You'd have to take it probably to Great Falls or Billings to get to those markets but there's still a market for separated clean commodities."

He said the issue is not a permanent change and new opportunities will arise for recyclables.

"The thing with commodities is they've got their ups and downs, and although we are not taking paper right now, it's not a forever thing," Bowden said. "The market will eventually come back. There will be development in either domestic processing or there will be other markets that will open up ... it's only a matter of time."


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