For years as Americans embraced recycling, their efforts were subsidized by the green cash the recycled plastic, paper and aluminum generated for local programs. But now the recycling industry is scrambling due to an economic slowdown in China, a global drop in oil prices, and a sustained decline in demand for commodities like plastic and aluminum.
For example, oil is essential for manufacturing plastic, but with the collapse of crude prices it's now cheaper for companies to use virgin plastic rather than using substitute materials generated by recycling.
David Steiner, president and CEO of Waste Management, the nation's largest solid waste company, has described the situation as a "crisis." He told CBS MoneyWatch that "the recycling industry has been hit with a double whammy." Processing costs are up, while the price the solid waste giant can get for the commodities from recycling has been depressed for a while.