Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Scavenging and Recycling

This is possibly the dumbest question I've ever asked, but I'm hoping someone can explain it to me. I was chatting with a scavenger this morning while he worked my street pulling cans and other metal recyclables from people's trash and recycling bins (it's trash day at Eyebrows' house). It helps him put food on the table, and there are places on the south side of Peoria I've passed many times that advertise for cans and scrap metal and whatnot. They usually pay by the ton, so it's not worth the effort of an individual, but -- and here we get to my question -- why are we asked to pay extra for recycling service when there are companies that want our recyclables and scavengers who are willing to pick it up, sort it, and make money off it?

I mean, it's not exactly the world's greatest job and I'm not so foolish as to think one can make a LIVING at it, but I've read about a lot of folks who do it as a sideline for a little extra cash when their minimum wage jobs don't pay enough. (Although I actually have a friend who guts other people's broken appliances for the copper wiring and piping and splits the proceeds with them -- he got $700 off one pipe-laden thing!) So I'm just curious about the economics -- if it makes sufficient economic sense for individuals to scavenge recyclables, and for some companies to pay for recyclables, why do we pay the garbage guys to take our recyclables away when, in fact, they're a valuable commodity?

(Or at least some of them are. I gather mostly metal and paper products, not plastic.)

Do people just object to scavengers in their neighborhoods, or is it an inadequate way to ensure collection of scrap?

(This would also, I suspect, make an interesting thesis on market economics and supply and demand and government services and all that stuff for some enterprising economics student, since it has all the pieces -- a valuable commodity, a population willing to do the work to make money off it, a government interfering in the market for non-economic reasons.)


thistle said...

I think it's to make people recycle, actually. Where I come from in rural CA you take your recyclables to the "recycle place" and they pay you for them (ok, not paper). But in the big cities I've noticed the same thing, and I think it's because not as many people have pickup trucks or whatever and can't be bothered to cart around giant trash cans full of tin foil in the back of their cars. So it's a forced pay-for-pickup to keep people from just chucking it in the bin.
Here in Denmark they have weird recycling choices. Bottles and now recently aluminum cans have stickers on them with a bar code. You save them and take them back to the store where you bought them, feed them into a machine that's always broken, and you get back a deposit you pay when you buy it (anywhere from ca. $.30-55 depending on the size of the bottle). But at parks you see bottle collectors going around harrassing picnickers for their recyclables because they're worth money. But if they weren't worth money... They'd get chucked.

Chef Kevin said...

When I was at culinary school, NY has a recycling program where is is about 5 or 10 (can't remember) cents per bottle that you turn in. It meant about an free 12 pack for every 5 you bought. In others words ya gotta put it in to terms people understand :) buy 5 12 packs of brew, get one free!!

I know people who recycle aluminum cans. I just save them for them. They don't go out of their way; just save theirs, mine, a few others hang onto them and they pick up the strays they see. And like he, a pays a few months of CILCO.

Josh Harris said...

See, this pisses me off. You have to pay for them to pick up your recyclables. Then they sell them to companies that buy recyclables. So they're making money on both ends. Say you have corn to sell. It would be like paying Cubs to take your corn then they turn around and sell it to consumers.

I think a lot more people would recycle if it didn't cost them to do it. I would actually recycle through Waste Management if it was free, instead I take it to Midland Davis.

anon e. mouse said...

I know why.
We had this problem when I worked retail. We'd crush and bale the boxes and someone would pick it up for free and make a few bucks. It worked out great until the prices fell and it wasn't worth it, so the bales piled up until finally they went into the regular trash (and into the landfill). We finally arranged to pay for them to be picked up (like the trash) for recycling.
It isn't so much the paying to recycle, it is the paying for the reliable pickup. They might make a few bucks on the metals, but mostly likely nothing on the paper or plastic.

Mahkno said...

The Journal Star did a long article on one of the scavengers a few years ago. Some of those guys make some serious cash. The profiled guy made enough to buy a house and furnish it. I even got relatives that have started scavenging and they have decent jobs too. The cash for some of these metals is getting seriously high. Hence all the 'scrap' robberies.