While prices for recycled materials are causing some recycling companies in the area to go out of business, the Recycling Center of North Dakota in Jamestown may expand in the future, according to Ralph Friebel, owner of the Recycling Center.
Friebel told members of the Jamestown City Council and staff of the city of Jamestown Friday that commodity prices are less than half of what they were a year ago.
"Maybe 40% of what they were a year ago," he said.
The National Waste and Recycling Association said in an April 2019 Issue Brief that the loss of Chinese markets for recyclable materials was reducing the prices for materials. The association estimated up to 41 percent of recycled paper and 35 percent of plastics went to China in 2016. China has not only reduced or eliminated the importation of recycling materials but implemented steps to prevent the materials from being smuggled into the country.
The resulting low prices have caused disruptions in recycling operations in two area communities. Valley City Recycling gave 90 days notice in April to that city that it would cease operations, according to its Facebook page.
And Brian Magnuson, owner of 4R's Recycling II in Carrington, is closing his operation to the public. 4R's Recycling began operations in the early 1990s and Magnuson has owned it for about five years. He hopes to reopen if recycled commodity prices increase.
"We'll keep a few business customers that produce a lot of cardboard," he said. "... Cardboard is so far down. That's what had carried the place before."
Friebel said cardboard is the lifeblood of the recycling industry because of its high volume.
"It's what everybody counts on to make a profit," he said.
But it is just one of the recycled commodities.
Materials gathered by the recycling trucks in Jamestown move down a conveyor system where workers separate the materials tossing things like tin, aluminum, paper and cardboard into separate bunkers. When the bunkers fill, the material is baled and accumulated until a truckload of about 23 tons can be shipped.
"Tin and aluminum goes to Canada," Friebel said. "Cardboard to St. Paul, plastics to Chicago or California, depending where the company wants it."
The sorting and baling facility for Recycling Center of North Dakota is in the former Coca-Cola bottling plant in Jamestown and makes about 10 bales per day of various materials.
Some of the plastics are shipped to companies that pay the freight but do not pay the Recycling Center for the materials. Other plastics have some value and are shipped separately. Materials like cardboard, tin, aluminum and paper are shipped and sold to processors for lower prices than in previous years. At this point, the Recycling Center of North Dakota is able to ship all recycling materials it gathers, Friebel said.
Friebel said the fact that his company collects the recyclable material makes it different than some of the other regional companies that operated drop-off centers.
"The collection fee is a big part of our business model," he said, "but we're also not just doing Jamestown."
A portion of the garbage collection rate in Jamestown is paid to the Recycling Center. The recycling cost was negotiated at $5.55 per month per household in 2017 and adjusts for inflation.
Recycling materials from Edgeley are also brought into the facility and, sometime this fall, recycling gathered in other towns may come to Jamestown for sorting and sales, Friebel said.
Freibel said the process will continue with prices hopefully improving in the future.
"That's the scary thing right now," he said. "We don't know if we're at the bottom yet."