In a cavernous recycling facility crisscrossed with conveyor belts, enormous bales of crumpled plastic bottles are stacked one atop another, waiting to be sold to the highest bidder.
For Waste Management, the company that runs this operation, collecting, sorting and bundling recyclables was until recently a profitable endeavor. A year ago, Waste Management could have fetched $230 for each bale of thin translucent plastic.
But today, thanks to the glut of cheap oil flooding global markets, they are worth just $112 each.
“Recycling is in a crisis,” said David P. Steiner, chief executive of Waste Management. “It used to be that all players in the recycling ecosystem were able to make a profit. That’s not the case anymore.”
With concerns about climate change mounting, it’s an awkward time for the recycling industry to be under such pressure. The environmental merits of recycling are well accepted by the public, if still disputed by some. Curbside collection programs are commonplace.