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As world demand falls, prices for recyclables go in dumper

Chris Bowman, Sacramento Bee
… “We got fed up reloading everybody’s pickup,” said Kevin Luong, the company’s marketing director, now in his seventh consecutive week of meager sales. “People are so shocked by the low prices. They think they are being ripped off here, but that’s not the case. It’s not us. It’s the market.”

If the scrap market doesn’t recover anytime soon, homeowners could see their garbage rates rise. Most recyclers pay for the materials cities and counties collect from residents’ blue curbside bins and then sell it for a profit. The proceeds help offset the government’s costs of collection.

… The scrap market took a nosedive in late September. At first, industry analysts thought they were seeing a short-term “Olympics effect” from the shutdown of Chinese paper mills and other big polluters during the Summer Games in Beijing. But as the weeks of rock-bottom prices wore on, the cause became clear.

China, a voracious consumer of West Coast scrap, has all but stopped buying used paper and plastic because international demand for Chinese products made from these recyclables has diminished. Much of the material goes to making cardboard and plastics for packaging everything from iPods to eyewear, computers and cars.

… When the cavalcade of collapses in housing, credit, stocks and commodities hit the recycling industry, it plummeted.

On Oct. 1, for example, baled newspapers in Northern California were going for $140 to $150 a ton. By Nov. 1, the market price had dropped more than 60 percent to $55 to $60 a ton.

The scrap market is inherently volatile. Two years ago, demand from China and India was high enough for thieves to steal newspapers from street stands, rip off water meters and manhole covers and strip cemeteries of bronze plaques.
(10 November 2008)

Paper price collapse blows hole in Britain’s recycling strategy

Mark Milner, Guardian
Britain’s paper recycling strategy is under increasing strain after a collapse in waste prices in recent weeks, according to a leading industry organisation.

Britain lacks the capacity to handle the rising amount of paper being recovered for recycling, and its dependence on exports has left it vulnerable to a rapid price collapse, the Confederation of Paper Industries said yesterday.

Far Eastern buyers had been snapping up about three-quarters of Britain’s exports of paper for recycling, but demand from the region has almost disappeared recently, the CPI said.
(11 November 2008)

Spotlight shines on light pollution

Karen Dillon, Kansas City Star
Stargazers have complained for years because cities shine so much light into the night sky that stars disappear behind the gray glow.

Now researchers are beginning to worry that light pollution — the artificial brightening of our nights — is creating problems for wildlife and possibly even human health.

… Wagner is part of an international dark-sky movement that has been pushing state and local leaders to pass laws to control light pollution.

Some cities have taken dramatic steps. As part of a broader development ordinance, Kansas City could pass light pollution restrictions as early as next month.

One side benefit, advocates say: Correcting light pollution could save billions of dollars a year in energy costs and also help slow climate change.

The most confounding part of light pollution is that it is so simple to fix, says Peter Strasser, senior technical adviser in Arizona for the International Dark-Sky Association.

It is as easy as designing light fixtures that are hooded so they cast light downward — not horizontally or upward. In addition, businesses and homeowners should turn off lights when they are not being used.

“People say, ‘Is that all there is to it?’ ” Strasser said. “Pretty much, that’s all there is to it. But, boy, there is all kinds of reluctance.”
(11 November 2008)
Billboards Brighten Los Angeles Night, to the Anger of Many (New York Times)
Our Vanishing Night: Most city skies have become virtually empty of stars (National Geographic)