Local recyclers see improvement following challenging year

On the heels of a tough few years, local recycling businesses say the market for recyclable goods has taken a turn for the better.

“Since COVID, it seems like the prices continue to improve, and there’s a demand for everything,” said Joe Rettenmeier, co-owner of Dittmer Recycling in Dubuque. “I don’t know why, but it’s been a good year that way.”

Recycling businesses faced a challenging market in recent years after China banned imports of most plastics, flooding markets and driving down prices.

But for the past six months or so, Ed Faherty, vice president of Platteville, Wis., waste and recycling business Faherty Inc., has seen the market for recyclable materials start to come up. Cardboard prices are higher than he has ever seen, and the value of plastics used in milk jugs also is particularly high, he said.

“The markets have been extremely, much better and there’s a lot of things that play into that,” he said.

One of those factors is the rising cost of fuel, which Faherty said tends to go hand-in-hand with an increase in the recycling market.

Doug Enke, who owns Town & Country Sanitation in Boscobel, Wis., also said he has seen improvements in the market, though he still noted that “recycling doesn’t pay for itself anymore.”

Rettenmeier said markets for plastics and fibers such as newspaper, cardboard and paper have been good. He said he wasn’t sure how long the upswing will last but hopes it continues into next year.

Rettenmeier also said people seem to generally be doing a better job at recycling.

“I think they’re starting to recycle more, which is good,” he said. “We’re keeping it out of the landfill, and I think the programs are getting better. I think everyone’s doing good with it.”

Improved recycling markets also impact the City of Dubuque, which contracts with Dittmer to process and market recyclable materials.

John Klostermann, the city’s public works director, noted that the city pays $60 per ton for Dittmer to sort and market recycled materials, and the two have a 50/50 profit share. In fiscal year 2020, the city paid more than $90,000 for sorting and marketing. That dropped to a net cost of $36,909 in fiscal year 2021. In the current fiscal year so far, the city has made a net $36,694 on the sale of recycled materials because of improvements in the market.

Klostermann said that is just a portion of the approximately $1 million in the city’s recycling budget, but the rising value of materials does help reduce overall costs.

“From a city perspective, recycling’s probably in the best shape it’s been in the last couple years,” he said.