Recovered fiber prices have crumbled this month, with OCC values cut in half and mixed paper dropping into negative territory for the first time in over two years.
The national average price for corrugated containers (PS 11) has plummeted from $78 per ton last month to a current average of $40 per ton, compared to $169 per ton this time last year.
OCC, one of the most important commodities in the curbside mix, has been falling since July, when the price was $131 per ton. Since then, each month has brought worse and worse news for MRFs. The price dropped 13%, 32% and 49% in August, September and October, respectively.
Some analysts see cardboard box demand, which affects the value of recovered fiber, as a rough gauge of overall economic conditions. Prices for OCC also collapsed in the runup to the 2007-09 Great Recession.
Another important grade given its large percentage in the curbside mix, mixed paper (PS 54), is feeling even worse pain and is now a cost for MRFs, not a revenue source. Mixed paper has dropped from $18 per ton to negative $1 per ton. This compares with $95 per ton this time last year. The last time mixed paper had a negative value was in April 2020 – at that point, it had been negative for over a year.
Again, as is the case with OCC, the mixed paper decline has been remarkably swift. As recently as July, it was $69 per ton. Then the price dropped 36%, 59% and 106% in August, September and October, respectively.
Sorted residential papers (PS 56) are also down dramatically, from $82 to $35 per ton. This compares with $116 per ton one year ago. Like OCC and mixed paper, sorted residential papers have been on a steep decline since July.
Sorted office papers (PS 37) remain steady, at $241 per ton, compared to an average $165 one year ago.
UBCs have also dropped over the past month. The national average price for sorted, baled aluminum cans is now 67.75 cents per pound, compared with 73.31 cents last month. This material was trading at an average 81.13 cents per pound this time last year.
Sorted, baled steel cans remained steady month-to-month, at an average $188 per ton. The price was $249 per ton one year ago.
There was a little bit of good news in plastics. The price of PET beverage bottles and jars came up this month by about 13% percent. PET is now averaging 8.50 cents per pound, compared with 7.53 cents per pound this time last month. Some regions are still trading as high as 12.00 cents per pound, with most offering as low as 7.00 cents. PET was trading at 22.78 cents one year ago.
The national average price of post-consumer natural high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is also up, now at an average 44.56 cents per pound. This compares with 39.50 cents last month. The price was 104.25 cents this time last year.
Color HDPE is up marginally, now trading at 6.41 cents per pound, compared to 6.16 cents this time last month. It averaged 54.00 cents one year ago.
Polypropylene (PP) prices have dropped quite a bit over the past month, however. PP is trading at 5.38 cents per pound, down from 8.31 cents last month, or a drop of 35%. PP was 32.69 cents one year ago.
The national average price of Grade A film is also down, now at 19.50 cents per pound, compared to 20.75 last month and 20.63 cents one year ago.
Grade B film is 6.94 cents, compared to 7.00 last month.
Grade C film remains firm at 0.94 cents per pound.
These prices are as reported on the Secondary Materials Pricing (SMP) Index. This pricing represents what is being paid for post-consumer recyclable materials in a sorted, baled format, picked up at most major recycling centers.