Recycling Markets Forecast: Looking into NRRA's Crystal Ball

As NRRA member communities work on their budgets for 2022, we have been asked to provide our best guess on whether next year will bring a year where recyclables increase in value or start to return to the low values we saw earlier.   After looking into our crystal ball (which includes speaking with our knowledgeable vendors), NRRA has prepared its best prediction for members.   We anticipate pricing will stay better than a year ago, and we’re certainly past the initial shocking drop in pricing resulting from China’s National Sword policy in 2018.  However, we expect the high commodity values (and lower single and dual stream costs) we’ve seen in recent months to begin moderating as soon as this month. 

If you haven't heard, recycling is thriving, in part due to the pandemic.  For example, last month one of NRRA's member communities received a revenue check of $24,000 for one tractor trailer load of baled plastics!

But it seems we have hit the high and pricing is starting to trend down for separated fibers (ex. cardboard, mixed paper, and more), plastics and cans.  Therefore, we expect the cost for single stream (and dual stream) recycling to start trending up again.

According to one of our fiber vendors: “Looks like mixed paper is weakening rapidly, primarily due to the lack of space on the few ships coming to Boston and scrap papers' place on the hierarchy of export product.”  Per another vendor, the general sense was that due to little to no exporting, fiber mills will begin to be full and material less in demand.  If you'd like to learn more about how the global ocean transportation market is affecting recycling, NRRA moderated a recent presentation on that topic.  

With fibers being approximately 60% by weight of residential recycling, weakening fibers markets will negatively impact residential recycling programs.  

While predictions are difficult, with gas prices trending to a new normal high and truck drivers still in great demand, this downtrend in pricing indicates NRRA communities should budget very conservatively.

If you’d like to learn more about current and future recycling markets, we encourage you to join NRRA at the NH Municipal Association conference for our session on “Recycling in NH: State of Recycling Markets.”  And for NRRA members only, we'll enjoy a special presentation about recycling markets at our Annual Meeting on November 10.