Glut Erases Profit on Old Newspapers : At $20 a Ton, a Drive Won't Pay

Times Staff Writers

Mona Burkholder remembers the good days last year when drives to collect newspapers for recycling brought in $600--enough to pay for a 1-day field trip to Sacramento for five Buena Park elementary school pupils.

This year, however, the school can't look to yesterday's papers to bring in money needed to subsidize the air fares for children whose parents cannot afford to pay.

"It looks like we're going to have to get our funds from somewhere else," said Burkholder, a secretary at Gordon H. Beatty Elementary School who has organized its paper drives. Last year, income from paper deliveries to a local recycling center averaged about $200, Burkholder said. The one delivery the school made this year earned $90, she said.

These days, schools, churches and other nonprofit organizations across Southern California are finding that newspaper drives are not the guaranteed fund-raisers they used to be.

A year ago, recycling centers were paying $80 to $100 a ton for newsprint. Now, the going rate at most Southland centers is just $20, and some places are giving quotes as low as $15. All over the region, centers are halting the practice of collecting the papers themselves because it is no longer worth the trouble. And some have stopped accepting newsprint altogether.

Church Will Cut Back

For the Rev. Hal Dallke of the Garden Grove United Methodist Church, the price drop means that the church "will limit some of the things we've been able to do." Although newspaper drives have not been a primary source of income for the church, Dallke said, the market change could mean delays or cuts in maintenance as well as in the purchasing of supplies.

Other groups in the region may be facing similar choices. Ty Woodward of Los Angeles recalled how the North Hollywood Optimist Club could load bundles of newspapers into his Dodge van, haul them to the Woodsy Owl recycling center in Van Nuys and walk away with as much $80 a ton. One Los Angeles-area Optimist Club drive raised enough money to send 20 boys from Troop 3 of the West Los Angeles Council of Boy Scouts to camp for a week. In Ventura County, groups that once got as much as $100 a ton for newspapers cannot give away the papers they have collected in curb-side bins.

One of the recycling firms that has cut back on its services is Men-Cal of Santa Ana. "We're not picking (up newsprint from) any school or church drives because the price is so low that the transportation cost from going to and from schools is more than the newspapers are bringing," said Wade Crawford, Men-Cal general manager..

Men-Cal stopped its pickup service in October, Crawford said. The firm will buy only if the papers are delivered. "The cost is prohibitive," Crawford said of the pickup service. The average trucking cost for pickups is $20 per ton, and it costs another $34 to process and transport the newsprint to Los Angeles Harbor, where it is then shipped to Korea, then actually recycled into newsprint and other paper products, he said.

$5 Drop Predicted

"I'm paying $20 per ton delivered to me right now," he said, "and I look for it to go down another $5 in another month."

Crawford said his business has dropped from 1,400 to 600 tons of material a month, with newsprint recycling dropping to about 20% of his business, half what it was several months ago.

"Would you bring it in at a penny a pound with gasoline at $1 per gallon?" he asked.

Newspapers account for the largest proportion of the recyclable products Americans toss away, environmental experts say, and even in the best of times, the rates paid for used newsprint are much lower than those for either bottles or cans.

With the current nationwide glut, however, rates for used newsprint have dropped to their lowest point in years, and recyclers expect them to drop even further.

City Programs Called Cause

The cause of the glut, recycling center officials say, is the proliferation of mandatory municipal recycling programs--primarily on the East Coast--designed to save landfill space. Under these programs, municipal sanitation agencies will only pick up trash that has been grouped into recyclable and non-recyclable items.

"The program in New York alone will stimulate 36,000 tons of paper every month," said Gary Petersen, vice president of Ecolo-Haul, a recycling firm that runs several centers in the Los Angeles area. "That's enough to flood the world market."

In some eastern states, Petersen said, people who have collected tons of newspaper are having to pay someone to take it off their hands.

Whether the mandatory approach catches on on the West, however, remains to be seen. Some California cities already have voluntary programs, but state legislators last year began discussing mandatory statewide recycling, of newspapers as well as of bottles and cans, said Chris Velez of the San Jose Office of Environmental Management. She noted that used newsprint accounts for 1,400 tons of the 1,950 tons of recyclable materials San Jose's voluntary program collects each month.

There is no such mandatory program in Orange County. For the unincorporated parts of the county, a program with curb-side pickups "is not part of the total county plan," said Georgiana Rivera, a staff analyst with the county Waste Management Program. But the county, as well as individual cities, is considering starting one. "It's something that is being evaluated . . . to reduce waste stream into the landfills," Rivera said.

Irvine is the only city to offer curb-side pickup of glass, aluminum and newspapers. Newport Beach has a newspaper recycling program with pickups made once a month, and a program modeled after the Irvine program has received tentative approval from the Laguna Beach City Council.

Los Angeles is experimenting with recycling programs in some neighborhoods, and the city is doing a study of alternatives that could lead to the implementation of a mandatory citywide program by summer, said John Stodder, aide to Mayor Tom Bradley on environmental issues.

Such a program, Stodder said, would involve 720,000 residential customers of the city Bureau of Sanitation.

The study will, Stodder said, consider the impact of a mandatory program on newspaper drives by charitable groups and schools.

"Our nightmare is New York, where they just began dumping newspapers on the market and driving the price for them down to zero," Stodder said. "We are lucky in that we are in a position to learn from their mistakes."

Times staff writer Jesse Katz in Ventura contributed to this report.

RECYCLING PRICES Typical prices in the Orange County recycling market:

Aluminum cans: 60 to 70 cents per pound; $1,200 to $1,400 per ton.

Glass: 2 to 4 cents per pound; $40 to $80 per ton.

Newsprint: 1 cent per pound; $15 to $20 per ton.


ADDRESSES Here is a partial list of recycling centers in the county from the American Recycling Market directory.


Dalton Enterprises Inc.

929 E. South St.

(714) 635-2181

Adams International Metals

3200 E. Frontera Road

(714) 630-6523


Progressive Paper Stock

2217 Terraza Place

(714) 441-0605


Sunset Fibre Industries

16182 Construction Circle W.

(714) 551-5714


D & J Recycling

23261 Del Lago Drive

(714) 770-1896


Environmental Recycling

8642 Olive Ave.

(714) 637-9510



941 E. 4th St.

(714) 547-7585


CR & R Recycling Center

11262 Western Ave.

(714) 826-9049

Source: Orange County Waste Management Program

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