RECYCLING: Co-ops Form To Market Recyclable Materials

For years teachers and parents have been preaching the benefits of cooperation. Today, several states across the nation are applying the art of cooperation to recycling.

While still a relatively new phenomenon, the New Hampshire Resource Recovery Association started cooperative marketing in 1982. Governmental entities and private organizations now volunteer to work together through cooperative marketing to market recyclables.

"They are going on the assumption that they can [market recyclables] better together than on their own," said Lola Schoenrich, a member of the Cooperative Marketing Network's steering committee and a community development specialist with the Minnesota Project, St. Paul, Minn.

Cooperative marketing groups offer three distinct types of services (see chart), according to a Cooperative Marketing Network survey.

* Approximately one-third of the programs offer complete regional recycling programs, providing collection, processing, storage, marketing and transportation to participating communities.

* Approximately 46 percent of the respondents offer processing, storage of materials, marketing and transportation.

* And the third major group of respondents, 16 percent of the total, only offer joint marketing of recyclables. This group coordinates shipment of recyclables. In smaller, rural communities, joint transportation can offset costs. Using just one truck to collect recyclables from two or three different stops helps to fill the truck while dividing the costs among the participating communities.

"The marketing-of-recyclables group," said Schoenrich, "is the least common but the best known." Programs such as the Southwest Public Recycling Association, a cooperative marketing organization for cities and counties in five Southwestern states, and the Tennessee Valley Authority have contributed to the high recognition of this group.

Marketing strategies are key to more than 60 marketing cooperative groups in the United States and Canada. While most marketing cooperative groups handle a full spectrum of recyclable materials, a few groups limit themselves to difficult-to-market materials. For example, the Long Island Cooperative Marketing Program handles only newspaper and the Appalachian Regional Recycling Consortium handles only tires and textiles.

In particular, cooperative marketing can benefit new recycling programs. One-on-one technical assistance focuses on basics such as operating trucks, balers and other pieces of equipment. In addition, large-quantity purchases will allow smaller facilities to purchase better quality equipment.

Other benefits to cooperative groups include: improved economy of scales for processors; greater opportunity for new end-markets; newly formed contacts for rural recyclers; improved cash flow if the materials move through the system quicker; time saved at facilities from a combined work force; stabilized markets; further access to markets that recyclers otherwise would be too small for; and dissolved price fluctuations as cooperative groups sell larger volumes to the buyer and gain importance.

Money and politics are the two biggest challenges facing cooperatives. "It's hard for people to work together," said Schoenrich. "Local political jurisdictions are not designed to work together. It has to do with the different personalities. Sometimes politicians can work together, and sometimes they can't."