NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Are your recycling efforts going to waste?
Companies that collect recycling also do so to collect money, something made difficult by low oil prices.
As CBS2's Diane Macedo reported, low oil prices have made a tough few months for recycling centers like Sims in Sunset Park. It's because plastic is made from petroleum, so low oil prices means low plastic prices.
"So if virgin plastic becomes less expensive, the recycled plastic commodity needs to drop to remain competitive," Thomas Outerbridge, General Manager, Sims Municipal Recycling explained.
And it's not just plastic.
"Steel prices are down, paper prices are down," Outerbridge said.
That makes it especially hard to recycle lower value materials like plastic bags.
"Plastic bags we will send to a landfill if we don't have a home for them," Outerbridge said.
While plastic bags aren't supposed to be put in recycling bins, many people still do, along with lots of other stuff that doesn't belong there.
"We get Christmas trees, bowling balls, shirts, sneakers," Outerbridge said.
One of the effects is that the facility needs to shut off the equipment and workers like Shawn need to go in by hand and pick up all the material that doesn't belong, like a roller covered in VHS tape.
Unwanted material can also contaminate what's around it, making it all unusable. Environmental consultant Wayne Defeo said it's especially problematic for smaller governments.
"In a smaller contract, they're usually penalty provisions that say if you bring the material that's really dirty I'm charging you more," Defeo said.
Combine that with the low commodity prices, and the Association for New Jersey Recyclers says it's a major problem.
"For years our systems operated on the premise that the revenues from the facility cover the operations, but if this goes any further then it becomes a cost to the county and probably municipalities," explained Ernie Kuhlwein, Solid Waste Director for Ocean County, explained.
"County taxpayers have to offset that cost," Ann Moore, Recycling Coordinator for Burlington County added.
The better alternative, recyclers said, is to be more diligent about keeping the wrong materials out of your recycling bin.
"We had a truck catch fire over the summer that was filled with recyclables and the culprit was a lithium battery. If that ends up in the recycling center and it causes fire you got multi-million dollar operations that can go up in flames," Moore said.
Since recyclers also offset their costs with more good recyclables, putting more of those in the recycling bin can help both our landfills and our wallets.
To find out more about how to properly dispose of materials in your area contact or check the website for your local sanitation department.
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