A tariff on scrap commodities is making it difficult for communities and businesses to find buyers for recyclables such as plastic. 

GLASGOW — Southcentral Kentucky communities are feeling the effects of a tariff imposed by China on U.S. scrap commodities, such as plastics, paper and aluminum, among others.

Scotty Mosby, solid waste coordinator for Metcalfe County, shared with the Metcalfe Fiscal Court at its May 28 meeting that he was having problems selling plastic items that can be recycled.

“It's almost impossible to get rid of it,” he said. “Hopefully, this will turn around pretty soon.”

The tariff on U.S. scrap commodities went into effect in August 2018 after the U.S. placed tariffs on Chinese imports in March 2018, said an Associated Press story.

In 2017, the U.S. exported a total of $5.6 billion worth of scrap commodities to China. Through the first six months of 2018, the total of U.S. scrap exports to China was $2.2 billion, a decrease of 24 percent from the same time frame last year, the AP story said.

Cave City is another southcentral Kentucky community that is also having problems selling its recyclable materials, specifically plastics.

“Right now, really all they want is cardboard,” said Robert Smith, public works manager for Cave City. “They're not taking plastic.”

Cave City offers recycling every Tuesday from 8 a.m. to noon in front of the Cave City Volunteer Fire Department's fire station along North First Street.

On average there are about 20 people who will drop off recyclable items. The city also picks up cardboard from six businesses located within the city each week, Smith said.

Recycling is not a profitable business for the city.

“We actually don't get any money at all,” he said.

If the city didn't recycle, it would have to take plastic, cardboard and other recyclable items to the landfill.

“If we had to take (them) to the landfill, it would be an added expense for us,” he said.

Selling recyclable items is also getting to be a problem for the city of Glasgow, and Mayor Harold Armstrong also said the issue is stemming from the tariff.

“Just like getting ready for a down draft in the market, it's the same way with recycling items that go overseas,” he said. “They're starting to cut back and it's just a matter of whether we are going to be over-stocked with stuff.”

Armstrong continued the city will sell the recyclable materials at any price.

“It costs us to recycle, but it saves us in the long run since we don't put it in our landfill,” he said. “If it gets to where we can't hardly sell it at all, we'll just have to stockpile it until things get better.”

The city may be forced to come up with a new use for the recyclable materials.

The mayor pointed out that there is some experimentation being done regarding the mixing of plastic with asphalt to pave streets and roads, and that could be a use for the city's recyclable plastic materials.

Glasgow also doesn't make any money by offering recycling.

“We lose money on the recycling,” Armstrong said. “It does not pay its way, but again, it's worthwhile to have that set up out there because we're extending the life of our landfill and providing a service to our citizens too.”

The mayor said the city won't stop recycling during his term in office.

“We will just think outside of the box. If we get to where we can't hardly give it away, we'll figure out what to do with the cardboard and what to do with the plastics. There will be a use here in Glasgow or in Kentucky to where we can promote it to where we won't have to worry about what's going on in another market,” he said.

Lakeside Recycling Inc., a solid waste collection and mixed recyclables company in Glasgow, is also feeling the effects of the tariff.

“We're having trouble moving our product and have had for some time — plastics, cardboard, paper. Just about everything has went to nothing as far as prices are concerned,” said Ricky Wells, owner of the company. “Right now plastic is not even worth saving.”

He continued that there isn't even a market at present for plastic recyclable materials.

“It costs you to get rid of plastic right now. It really has hurt because people aren't taking the initiative to do anything with it,” he said.

Until the market comes back for plastic, there's nothing his business or any of the communities in southcentral Kentucky can do with it.

Wells doesn't look for the market to return for plastic this year and said “neither does anybody else.”

Also, there is no overseas market for cardboard. In 2018, cardboard sold for $150 per ton.

“Right now it's not even $40 per ton,” he said.

The price for paper has also fallen considerably, Wells said.

The scrap commodities will eventually end up in landfills if the market doesn't come back soon, and Wells said that is the worst thing that could happen to the environment because those items don't break down very quickly and could be in the landfill 20 years from now.

“It's really hurt big time,” Wells said.

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