Just over a year ago, the metal soup and sauce cans that many Mainers diligently wash and toss in recycling bins were worth $184 a ton at ecomaine, the nonprofit agency that handles solid waste for Portland and four dozen other communities. At the start of 2016, the value of those cans had fallen by two-thirds, to $63.
A grade of plastic used for salad dressing and peanut butter containers fetched $240 a ton last winter. This past January, ecomaine could get only $160 a ton, one-third less.
The depressed value of recycled materials worldwide means that ecomaine is earning less money. The shortfall is contributing to a revenue loss totaling $3 million, compared to three years ago. Expectations that recycling values will remain low and that ecomaine will have to make up for the lost revenue are raising prospects that Greater Portland residents may begin paying more to dispose of their waste next year.