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Is E-waste recycling a profitable business?

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Gordon Willis
Ecological Field Technician

Recycling tends to be a commodity driven business. As was said in other answers to this question there are a lot of factors that go into ‘how much money’ can be made. For instance, mixed paper, which is highly prevalent in curbside programs, but was influenced significantly by China’s purchasing, has seen a significant decline due to policy decisions. Understanding what you have access to, establishing good relationships to sell and having a steady (and hopefully increasing) volume of material are some of the main factors you’ll need in addition to a passion for recycling to succeed. If there is no market for what you’ve got, then there is no value in it.

Another factor in the success or failure of a recycling business is how you process the material you are planning to focus on. If you receive ‘mixed’ materials you’ll need either human or mechanical labor to separate this into individual ‘streams’ of material that can be sold. The more components to the stream, the more people or machine power you need to sort/separate and the more upfront costs you have.

A final consideration is that recycling is an inverse business so you can either focus on quantity or quality. In a typical recycling operation you’ll have the opportunity to sort out a smaller amount of higher quality (read as higher value) material (thus the ‘inverse’ nature) if you aim for quality. The other approach is to focus on moving a larger amount of material which still needs processing at a lower value and focusing on moving as much material as you can profitably. Either strategy works as long as policy shifts (like China…) can be factored into your contracting. Above all, because you are dealing with a business that changes all the time, flexibility in your operation will be a key to your success.