Over the clamoring of aluminum cans and cranking of a rusty conveyer belt, Centroplex Recycling Center manager Earsel Hyden fans through a stack of dollar bills.
He said he thinks people come to his business for two simple reasons: they want to help the environment and they want cash.
“A lot of it is not worth the hassle, but I think there is a little in everybody that is at least trying to put things where they need to go,” Hyden said.
Apparently, for the future of Killeen, that place is in the recycling bin.
The Killeen City Council is currently debating a new mandatory citywide recycling program that may change the way Hyden does business. If the
measure goes through, all residential solid waste customers in Killeen would be issued a container for recycling and see a $3 hike in their monthly trash bill.
“I am not sure how much it is going to affect me,” Hyden said. “It’s got pros and cons but what it’s all about is a better future with less trash. I support that.”
In order for Centroplex Recycling to make enough money to keep the machines cranking, people have to keep bringing in aluminum cans, copper wire, old appliances and a variety of other unwanted items.
“If you’re in this business to make money you’ve got to have a lot of volume,” Hyden said. “It’s pennies on the dollar.”
Hyden’s trump card, however, is the cash. The city does not plan to pay residents for their recyclable goods and Centroplex Recycling will.
“We try to pay a fair price for an honest product,” Hyden said, adding last Monday he was paying 50 cents a pound for aluminum cans.
Whether through private companies, such as Centroplex Recycling, or municipal solid waste programs, most of Killeen’s recyclables are sorted, crushed and shipped in massive bricks overseas and into the global market.
Michael Cleghorn, Killeen solid waste director, said that over the past three to five years, the market has been primarily driven by sales to China.
“If China stops buying the materials, the price drops. If China starts buying materials, the price goes up,” Cleghorn said. “So it has been a roller coaster of rates.”
Each week, domestic recycling companies study metal prices listed in consumer indexes, such as the American Metals Index and the International Paper Index.
Some fluctuate more than others. “The recycling market is a volatile thing,” said Steve Shannon, municipal services manager at Austin-based Balcones Resources, one of the companies competing for Killeen’s contract.
Although government programs support the green energy initiatives, most recycling companies do not receive subsidies.
“Recyclables receive no price support, unlike pork bellies, tobacco or anything like that,” Shannon said.
Shannon said in the past 38 years of working in recycling, he believes the value of recyclable material will only rise.
“The easy-to-get, natural resources are gone,” Shannon said. “With the emerging world population that wants materials, the value of these materials will continue to go up.”
Shannon said many manufacturers understand that working with recyclable materials saves energy and money. “Values are going up to a large extent because of the amount of avoided energy to convert paper back into paper, instead of trees into paper, or cans back into metal,” Shannon said. “The value is there.”