Rosalind Essig | Journal-Courier
After around six years of providing work for people with disabilities in Jacksonville, Pathway Services Unlimited’s recycling program is shutting down because of falling prices.
Executive Director Steve Brundage said commodity prices have fallen to the point that it is no longer feasible to continue to pick up recyclable materials. Pathway is working on ideas to make up for the loss of jobs because the organization’s mission is to create opportunities for people with disabilities, he added.
The program in the past accepted cardboard, chipboard, white paper, fabrics, leather goods and electronics. While Pathway can still accept some materials that are dropped of, it will no longer be picking items up.
The program provided the most jobs at Pathway, with 20-30 people working in the recycling area at a time, Brundage said. The work was part time and was flexible depending on what each person could handle.
Brundage said the pay is a means of “self elevation” for people who work at Pathway.
He added the employees were savvy at the work — able to tell which electronics were easiest to take apart just by looking at them.
“It kind of makes you sick because it’s something our guys are good at — sorting it and preparing it for shipment,” Brundage said.
Changes in China’s policies slowing the country’s purchasing of recycled materials and an overall decline in the recycling market have caused prices to fall over the last couple of years and Brundage said they weren’t seeing “any light at the end of the tunnel.” The price of a ton of cardboard dropped from around $200 per ton a couple years ago to $60 per ton today, he said.
“This has been coming for quite a while and has finally reached the tipping point,” Brundage said.
China, the world’s largest consumer of recycled materials, in 2017 announced its plans to ban the import of post-consumer plastics and paper, and implemented strict standards limiting contamination with non-recyclable materials, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association. In 2016, before the policy changes, China consumed more than 50 percent of recycled paper and plastics.
India, another emerging market, last week announced a ban on imported plastic waste.
The U.S. recycled 67.8 million tons of waste in 2015, according to the most recent data available from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Brundage said Pathway’s isn’t the only recycling program that is reducing or eliminating pickup services.
“I think it’s kind of a sign of the times at the moment,” he said.
If prices rebound, he said Pathway might try to bring the program back.
Clothing and other goods, like belts and shoes, that can be sold at Pathway’s second-hand, The Attic, store can still be dropped off. The items that can’t be sold will be baled and recycled.
Brundage said that the prices for recycled fabrics have held steady compare to the prices of other recyclables.
Pathway will also continue to accept aluminum cans, the proceeds of which are donated to the Special Olympics, and plastic caps and lids, which are made into benches.