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With prices low, Billings recycling firms struggling to find places to store cardboard

Posted at 6:18 PM, Jun 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-17 14:48:48-04

BILLINGS – After China banned U.S. scrapped materials in 2018, companies across the United States are struggling to find places to put their recycling. Especially cardboard, as mills are running at capacity.

“With them not buying, it has backed up the domestic mills crash prices. And for some people, it’s cheaper to throw it in the landfill than it is to ship it to a recycling facility,” said Scott Berens, owner of Earth First Aid curbside recycling of Billings. “Since the ban from China, it has made for a long 2018, and it’s been an even longer 2019.”

Earth First Aid recycles both residentially and commercially in Billings.

The company picks up recycling and brings it back to the shop, where the items are then bailed and shipped out.

“We currently have no processing facilities in the state of Montana that will process any of this material into a reusable product,” Berens said.

Though mills are backed up and prices are down, First Aid is still able to move all of its material with the exception of cardboard. The price for that commodity fell to around zero this month as compared to $5 a ton last month.

Cardboard is just sitting at Earth First Aid with nowhere to ship it. A lot of the mills have cut back on allocations, and are running at 180 percent capacity. They are also really picky with what they can accept and are limited on what they can accept, causing a backup for some recyclers who either sit on the material or ship it straight to the landfill.

Historically, cardboard at Earth First Aid has sold at an upward of $120 a ton before the market collapsed.

“It’s just been progressively getting worse, to the point where we can’t sell it. People are sending it to the landfills. China is currently buying cardboard from other countries at $500 a ton. It’s not fun for them. It’s not fun for us,” said Berens. 

What will it take to start moving the cardboard again? Berens says more investments in infrastructure. He says the industry needs more U.S. mills to process the inventory domestically and bring the manufacturing and jobs back to the U.S.

“Recycling is still a positive at the end of the day that conserves natural resources and creates jobs and supplies, at a multitude of markets and industries with the product when done right, at a fair price, to everyone involved,” he said.