Recycling in Mississippi has gone through hills and valleys through the years, and is now on an upswing that can be attributed to better commodity prices for recyclables combined with a new State Task Force on Recycling established by the Mississippi Legislature in 2004 “to serve as a consensus group designed to coordinate efforts by the state, counties, and municipalities to create an effective recycling system in the state.”
“The price of most recyclable goods is up,” said Phil Morris, CEO of Morris Recycling, which has headquarters in New Albany and is one of the state’s largest recycling companies. “A few years ago, prices for many recyclable materials were at 30-year lows. But recently prices have improved considerably. The price of scrap metal has been very high. We have nearly doubled the number of barges per month we ship of automobiles which have been crushed for recycling.”
With China’s booming economy and increasing appetite for steel, scrap metals prices are at levels high enough to provide the incentive for turning many thousands of junk cars in the state into metal to be recycled. Morris Recycling has gone from four to five barges of junk cars per month to eight to 10.
Morris said prices are also good for some other recyclables such as newsprint and paper. In at least one city in the state, prices for recycled newsprint are so high that people are going ahead of BFI recycling trucks and picking up newspapers to sell for recycling.
The task force may have lucked out, Morris said, being established at the right time to take advantage of market forces encouraging recycling.
“I think we’ll see some natural improvement in recycling just driven by the prices,” Morris said. “We know prices are up for most things. Some of the other products need a nudge.”
Telling the success stories
While most of the benefits of recycling are well known, the task force that has been meeting recently to help develop a report making recommendations to the Legislature for improving education efforts about recycling while also encouraging other strategies to save landfill space by encouraging the reuse of materials and reduction of waste.
“One of the things we are talking about is trying to point out some success stories and create a self-help manual for communities interested in recycling,” Morris said. “We have some important success stories in this state, and also a lot of things available for help people are not aware of.”
The task force heard recently about the recycling success story of Wayne County.
Bidmer Walker, Wayne County solid waste enforcement officer, said the county supervisors were interested in having a recycling program even though that can be difficult in a small, rural county. In 2000, the county applied for grant funds to get a recycling program launched.
Walker said they started with businesses that generate a good bit of one type of waste (offices that produce paper, for example) and three public schools. The program grew with the addition of drop-off stations for recyclables. Now the county is recycling approximately 25 tons of paper every two months, resulting in considerable savings from hauling and landfill costs. Landfilling costs Wayne County approximately $30 per ton, and has been higher.
Wayne County also has an aggressive roadside littering program, has a dropoff location for used tires, and is also taking wastes such as used motor oil for recycling.
“Our five supervisors are 100% behind the recycling program,” Walker said.
Mark Williams, administrator of the solid waste branch of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said Wayne County deserves recognition for its recycling program.
“The task force committee was very impressed with Wayne County’s initiative being such a small rural county not in the center of things, yet they seem to be accomplishing a lot with a little,” Williams said. “That was the most impressive thing about Wayne County’s program. There is a clear relationship between recycling and managing waste. It is also clearly a litter and illegal dumping prevention program.”
The task force also got a favorable impression of the City of Jackson’s programs in recycling that show success in an urban area. Jackson’s Environmental Service Center processes items such as electronics and paint. The paints are blended and resold.
“There is such a tremendous demand for products they can hardly keep them in stock,” Williams said. “That has been a very successful program. They are also recycling cell phones, and programming them for 911 assistance for the elderly. They have a lot of good programs going on. They recently expanded the entire city to curbside recycling, and have had success with that.”
Environmental, economic benefits
While not by any means a complete list of communities doing a good job with recycling, Williams also pointed to Oxford’s recent expansion of its curbside recycling programs, and an exemplary program in Starkville that employs handicapped citizens in recycling waste into products.
“The University of Southern Mississippi has an excellent university program, and there are also many others in the state doing good things,” Williams said. “These are not the only communities doing good things with recycling.”
Williams said environment benefits of recycling include preventing litter, preserving water quality, saving landfill space and helping prevent the formation of greenhouse gases. And “absolutely”, there are also economic benefits.
“EPA has shown in its jobs-to-recycling program that economic benefits far exceed the cost,” Williams said. “There are certainly economic and quality-of-life benefits from preventing litter and illegal dumping, and providing options for citizens to manage waste and have a good attitude about contributing long-term to protection of their environment and the local economy.”
Williams said the task force will be making recommendations for local government collection and recycling of materials. It will also look at markets and market development, considering what the state can do to help markets for recyclable materials develop. Another effort will be public education encouraging people to be involved in recycling and educating them on the benefits of recycling.
In addition to making educational information more available for cities, counties and civic organizations, the recycling task force is also considering if there is any legislation that might help encourage recycling or change laws that are hindering recycling.
One of the challenges in Mississippi is that disposal costs for buying garbage are low, approximately $15 to $20 per ton, compared to more urban areas of the country where it might cost $100 per ton.
“We don’t have that cost avoidance driving us quite as hard here,” Morris said. “Another disadvantage is we are sparsely populated. We don’t have as many people or tons of products, and those we do have are spread out over a fairly large state. That makes it a little difficult. We are trying to look at some of those challenges and difficulties, and see if there are some things that might help.”
He adds another problem with the current situation in Mississippi is that most of the recycling being done of household garbage costs money; it doesn’t generate enough money to pay the cost. Either the customer has to pay extra to have recycling, or tax dollars have to pay the shortfall.
“Of course, with the budget crunch Mississippi and other states have gone through in recent years, some states have cut back their recycling budgets in recent years,” he said.
The task force also hopes to keep up with the rapid improvements today in electronics recycling. There is a lot going on with electronics recycling, Morris said, and the state would be filling a helpful role by figuring out how to get that information out to people.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.