Municipal recycling programs have struggled for the better part of 50 years to maintain profitability. In fact, money-losing programs have been discontinued across the country. Yet recycling itself is not the problem. It is the business model most municipal programs are built on.
Recycling can be profitable if it’s done the right way. To demonstrate as much, this post will talk about two separate companies that approach recycling from different angles. One recycles industrial scrap plastic while the other recycles residential materials. Both companies are doing quite well.
Industrial Scrap Plastic (Sorting Required)
The first company is Seraphim Plastics out of Memphis, TN. They specialize in industrial plastic waste covering everything from plastic purge to pallets and totes. All the plastic they recycle gets transformed into regrind and sold to manufacturers.
Seraphim’s business model calls for customers to sort their recyclable materials prior to pick up. In other words, when Seraphim picks up a load of plastic pallets, that’s all they are picking up. It is not a mixed load of different plastic types.
Customers are happy to sort because Seraphim buys their plastic waste from them. The company essentially pays customers to take care of the sorting. This allows Seraphim to move material from truck directly to processing without any additional steps or expense. They minimize labor, maximize efficiency, and turn a good profit. Seraphim is successful enough to operate in seven states.
Residential Recyclables (No Sorting Required)
The second company, known as Green Teens Curbside Recycling, operates out of Owosso, OK. The company recycles residential materials including plastic, paper, cardboard, aluminum, and glass. It was originally started as a way to help two teenagers learn the value of hard work. The company has since grown into one that serves three hundred customers in five different communities.
Green Teens provides residential customers and small businesses with 45-gallon receptacles into which they can place their recyclables. Glass is put in one receptacle and everything else in another. Customers are not required to sort beyond keeping glass separate.
Depending on the level of service desired (there are three levels), customers pay a one-time startup fee along with a monthly collection fee. The lowest-priced package for residential customers costs $25 per month.
Two additional services are offered with a separate fee schedule: electronics recycling and junk removal. Green Teens’ business continues to grow in a part of Oklahoma void of municipal recycling.
Process Is The Key
Both Seraphim and Green Teens make good money recycling because they employ efficient processes that do not require excess manual labor and prohibitively expensive equipment. By maintaining lean and mean operations, the two companies can achieve what municipal recycling programs seem to struggle with.
Seraphim’s golden goose is not having to sort or clean the plastics they buy. They do not have to spend money on intermediate steps that prepare plastics for recycling. They pick up a load, transport it to one of their facilities, and send it right to the grinder.
Although Green Teens does sort mixed recyclables, their system is designed to minimize contamination. They pick up small loads from individual customers, keeping each load separate so that one contaminated load does not contaminate all the others picked up that day. They take loads back to their facility and sort them efficiently.
Municipal recycling has largely failed. However, it is not because residential recycling isn’t doable. It’s because municipal recyclers rely on inefficient processes that make recycling too costly. If they would adopt a more efficient business model and encourage customers to get on board with it, they could recycle at a profit, too.