Paper profit: it pays to collect trash

There is cash in paper trash. Various charities have collected wastepaper as a way to raise funds for decades. In recent years numerous communities have got into the act. And now more individuals have begun making a living by collecting old newspapers, magazines, or supermarket cartons as the demand for recycled paper has steadily grown over the past decade.

* More than $50 million is earned annually from wastepaper collection.

* Full-time trash dealers collect about $25 a ton for corrugated boxes from supermarkets.

* The South East Paper Company, Dublin, Ga., which operates the largest newspaper recycling mill in the world, plans to double its capacity in the next two years.

* The Environmental Protection Agency initiated "Use It Again Sam," a high-grade paper recycling program, in 1975, which earned $11,000 that year for the agency alone and is now being applied in other government bureaucracies.

* More than 18.1 million tons of wastepaper was collected for recycling in 1979, constituting 25 percent of the total paper tonnage consumed in the United States that year. In 1970 only 12.5 million tons were collected, only 21.8 percent of tonnage consumed.

* Scavengers are taking discarded newspapers from curbsides in some areas before the community collectors arrive, evidence of their monetary value.

Students put themselves through college, retired persons complement their pensions, and others support themselves full-time by wastepaper collection.

To enter this market, you need only contact wastepaper dealers, check prices for corrugated or newspaper materials, set up a collection route at factories and supermarkets, and deliver the goods to the dealers or mills. Some mills are supplied almost entirely by individual collectors.

The demand for wastepaper grew from a world fiber shortage, some experts say.But Rod Edwards, of the American Paper Institute, rejects that observation.

"We have the resources, but the problem is the limited capacity of the mills, " Mr. Edwards says. "The demand for paper is growing, but the mills are operating at capacity."

Although demand and paper prices have been high and the market has been expanding, the toll of a coming recession has been in evidence in recent weeks.

"The market for wastepaper is affected already," says Jerome Sharf of the National Association of Recycling Industries. "High-grade and de-inking-grade paper prices are declining, corrugated is slow, and recycled paperboard is down for the last few weeks."

Until recently domestic paper shortages have been cyclical and quite predictable. Newspaper drives have created a surplus in the spring and fall, and a shortage in summer and winter.

But the rise of community recycling programs has overshadowed newspaper drives. Both the demand for and supply of wastepaper are less predictable now, according to Pat Scanlon, of North Shore Recycled Fibers in suburban Boston.

Recycling is easing the waste disposal problems for many communities, while supplying paper and other recyclable materials to mills and manufacturers.

The most successful community recycling programs generally recover 20 percent of their garbage. But Wilton, N.H., recycles about 80 percent of its waste. Most of the rest is incinerated, with only a small amount disposed of in landfill sites.

Wilton has gone far beyond curbside collection of newspapers, recycling all glass, cans, paper, metal, and more recently plastic milk jugs.

Wilton adopted a mandatory recycling law as its most economical and environmentally sound alternative. There were insufficient landfill sites; trucking or incinerating waste would have coust significantly more than recycling. So citizens of Wilton and five other nearby communities drive their own garbage, separated into the various materials, to a central recycling site.

But in cities such as New York, where many of the 7 million inhabitants have no means of transporting waste materials, mandatory centralized separation and disposal of waste material seems unworkable, Mr. Edwards says.

The American Paper Institute has been critical of the Department of Energy for its push for incineration of waste as an energy-efficient process. The institutes views this as a "burning issue" to the recycling industries.

While it supports the concept of waste burning, "It should be incorporated into recycling efforts -- burning only those materials which are unrecyclable," Mr. Edwards says.

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