Got any rubbish? Price of recyclable waste recovers

Last year, you couldn't give away old paper and bottles. But now the salvage industry is back in business and starting a new boom

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As an investment tip it is unlikely to inspire a rush: put your money in rubbish. Nevertheless, new figures reveal that the price of recyclable waste has doubled in the past six months.

The news will provide a boost to Britain's flagging recycling movement, and go some way towards reversing the gloom over mountains of glass bottles and newspapers piling up across Britain after the drop last year in the value of recyclables.

It will also be a welcome change for UK waste collection companies and councils, hit hard by a drop in demand last autumn for paper, bottles and cans from countries such as China and India. There had been calls for warehouses and disused airfields to be made available for storing rubbish that could not be sold.

A huge global drop in the volume of waste being produced, partly due to the economic downturn, is thought to have sparked the recent sharp rise. The price of cardboard has trebled to £59 per ton since November, while PET – the plastic used in drinks bottles – has also more than doubled from £75 per ton to £195. During the same time period, the price of gold has risen by just 14 per cent, and crude oil by 16 per cent.

"The main reason for this is that the quantity of recycled material available around the world is lower than it was six months ago. It is a question of supply and demand," said George Broom, the owner of the commercial recycling company Environmental Support Services. "Also, the international demand that had dropped off is coming back."

Reports are also suggesting that overseas demand for recyclable materials is slowly increasing. "Prices are creeping up," said Lorna Langdon, managing director of Paperchasers. "The price for highgrade paper fell last year from £60 a ton to nothing at Christmas time, but has now risen to around £35 a ton. All industries have had a downturn, which includes the recycling industry. I'm sure it will improve."

Figures released by the government waste watchdog Waste Resources and Action Programme (Wrap) last week confirmed that the price of recovered materials is continuing to rise. The latest figures show that plastic bottles are increasing in value, with PET bottle prices currently at, or above, last year's peak, and paper prices are edging higher.

Although the slump in the value of recycling materials did not have a measurable impact on levels of household recycling across the UK, reports of the slump in prices did little to help consumer confidence.

"Wrap tracks consumer recycling very closely, and there has been absolutely no evidence of a significant fall in recycling behaviour since the fall in prices," said a spokesperson. "But it's also clear from the research that consumers want to be confident that what they put out is actually recycled into something useful. So this evidence of rising prices and rising demand should definitely help reinforce consumer confidence that recycling remains worthwhile."

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