Growing demand for cardboard to be recycled might signal economic uptick

Cardboard piled up last winter at Curbside Recycling Indefinitely while the company’s owners waited for an uptick in the sluggish commodities market to make the recyclable materials somewhat profitable again.

Now a sign at a local recycling drop-off facility may indicate a shift in market changes.

Paper boards such as cereal boxes, beer containers, tissue boxes, shoe boxes and detergent packaging are being accepted at the West Avenue facility. The company, which offers recycling services to Grand Junction residents, may soon accept paperboard through its pickup program. 

Business owner Steve Foss said demand for the fibrous materials like cardboard and paperboard has taken a dramatic turn, which may be one indication the economy is rebounding.

“One of the first signs of a recovery is cardboard. Everything is shipped in cardboard,”

Foss said. “Last year I had 500 bales (of cardboard) and nowhere to send it. Now multiple mills are making calls. You can tell how desperate they are by the number of purchase orders they make. That’s what we like to hear, ‘How many loads can you send us?’ ”

Foss said prices for cardboard last year went from about $160 a ton to negative $35 a ton. During the worst months, some of the mills that recycled cardboard took the product not because they wanted it or needed it, but to keep positive business relations.
Now, Foss said, another market shift is creating a demand for fibrous materials. Drastic decreases in newsprint with newspapers either scaling back newsprint or newspapers going under have left a gaping hole in the newsprint recycling industry. A kick-up in demand for fibrous matter has prompted some mills to adapt and change practices to accept paperboard, a material that can be recycled into eco-friendly insulation, for example.

“There’s no Rocky (Mountain News), The Denver Post is not widely available,” he said.

“Each paper weighed several pounds. When they stopped distributing we noticed immediately. Manufacturers are relying on that and newspaper volumes are down dramatically.”

Foss said he has one mill signed on to accept paperboard and if he can get confirmation from one more, the local company will begin accepting the material during its curbside pickups. That should be good news to CRI customers who have long requested the company accept paperboards. Foss said he’s hesitant to start accepting the materials without confirmation from two mills. Recycling companies that have accepted paperboard in the past were mixing the material in with cardboard, a process that some mills will not accept, Foss said.

“We try to limit ourselves to dealing with mills that have some sort of policy about how they treat their employees and have good environmental records,” Foss said. “It takes us a little longer to find markets. We never wanted it before because we couldn’t find a mill that would reliably take it.”

Spokeswoman Melissa Kolwaite of Waste Management, a company that also accepts recyclable materials for Mesa County residents, said there’s been a slight uptick in the commodities market, “but it is too soon to use this slight upswing as true indicator of how or if, the market is changing,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Waste Management has always accepted paperboard, among other materials.

Prices for recyclable commodities vary according to demand and often are guarded as proprietary information.

Foss views the phone calls from mills as a positive sign and a turnaround from last year’s “cardboard disaster” in which mills closed down or went dormant because of lack of demand.

“We’re back to having more calls for material that we have material,” Foss said.

“They’re (materials) all gradually increasing in price.”


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