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Session Recap: Markets Madness

A panel of coordinators and vendors discussed the methods they use to predict, create and respond to evolving and elusive materials markets.


  • Tanya Adams, Recycling Coordinator, Cecil County Government – Solid Waste Division
  • Jonathan Sloan, President, CANUSA Hershman Recycling Company
  • Anna Tompkins, Marketing Director, Atlantic Recycling Group
  • Rick Turnbell, Recycling Program Manager, Mid-Shore Regional Recycling Program 

Moderator: Melissa Filiaggi, Recycling Program Coordinator, MD Environmental Service (MES)

Led by moderator Melissa Filiaggi, Recycling Program Coordinator for the Maryland Environmental Service (MES), a panel of recycling coordinators and vendors discussed the ins and outs of today’s recycling markets. The recovered materials market, just like any commodity market, has its highs and lows. It’s hard to predict how mixed paper or rigid plastics will sell from one month to the next – a sentiment oft-repeated by the panelists.

The volatility of the marketplace presents a difficult challenge to both recycling coordinators and vendors of recycled materials. When the markets hit a significant low, Tanya Adams, Recycling Coordinator for Cecil County, said Cecil County was forced to renegotiate contracts for single stream recyclables. The County raised its single stream recycling tipping fee, cut the “low-hanging fruit” through steps such as eliminating its household battery recycling program and landfilling electronics, and ceased paid advertising public outreach, all in an effort to plug a $160,000 deficit in the budget. Jonathan Sloan, president of CANUSA Hershman Recycling Company, said that due to fast-paced market shifts, his company looks to minimize financial risks whenever possible. Sloan said that not all recyclable materials are economically viable to recycle. CANUSA Hershman ends up turning away a lot of materials, either because the commodity market isn’t strong enough or there isn’t a great enough quantity of a material to justify its handling.

Recently, recycling coordinators and vendors have encountered new difficulties when exporting recycled materials overseas, particularly to the Asian markets. “National Sword” is a Chinese campaign, initiated by China’s General Administration of Customs, to crack down on the contamination rates of imported recycled materials. Stricter standards and increased inspections have led to the rejection of countless bales of recycled materials sent to China. Sloan employs full-time inspectors that visit materials recovery facilities (MRFs) to examine bales of recovered materials, turning down any contaminated bales too risky for export. Anna Tompkins, Marketing Director for the Atlantic Recycling Group, also employs inspectors to evaluate their inventory of scrap metals. It’s imperative, she said, to keep electronics out of their scrap metals and white goods in order to reduce the financial risk of materials rejected overseas. On a smaller scale, Rick Turnbell, Recycling Program Manager of the Mid-Shore Regional Recycling Program, maintains a close relationship with his paper vendor and investigates paper contamination complaints on a case-by-case basis.

In an effort to reduce contamination rates and meet inspection standards, the panelists all agreed that communication is key – both with MRF operators and the general public. Sloan explained that every MRF is different. Recycling coordinators and vendors need to understand what types of commodities a MRF is capable of handling before jumping into a new, potentially risky market. Tompkins agreed and encouraged recycling coordinators and MRF operators to be open and honest with recycling processors as a way to solve unforeseen market challenges. Coordinators must also communicate to residents the proper guidelines and regulations for their individual recycling programs. Turnbell employs an attendant at the Mid-Shore Region’s residential drop-off centers to educate residents in person. According to Adams, Cecil County utilizes social media, produces educational videos and promotes the County website whenever possible to educate residents online. To reduce contaminated recycling, the panelists agreed that it all starts with the residents.

Article courtesy of Meghan G. Schatz, Baltimore County