More than a dozen nonprofit groups in Ventura and Oxnard that recycle old newspapers for extra cash have found that their efforts no longer pay off.
A nationwide glut in the newsprint market that industry experts say may never be absorbed has almost overnight wiped away any profit to be made from collecting old papers.
Local groups--which include half a dozen elementary schools, churches, a temple and two Boys & Girls clubs--began the recycling projects at various times over the last several years as a way of padding their perennially pinched coffers.
But, by December, the collection bins that had been placed on their grounds by recycling companies were overflowing with uncollected papers, and many of the groups contend that they are owed hundreds of dollars for past pick-ups.
Did 'Nice Things'
"It was really too bad," said Helen Alfredson, a fifth-grade teacher at Montalvo Elementary School. "It's not any huge amount of money, but it did do nice little things for our school."
Most of the complaints have been directed toward the Community Recycling Center, a Sylmar-based firm, which supplied bins for at least seven of the groups.
Mike Alessi, who was acting as the company's spokesman Tuesday, denied that any money was owed. He said Community Recycling had announced in October that, because of the plummeting price for recycled newsprint, the company could no longer pay the groups the $40 or so a ton they were accustomed to receiving.
"We told them, 'If you want to get paid for it--impossible,' " Alessi said. "Newspaper has no value now. But they can't comprehend, because they're not in the business. They just see that they're not getting paid what they used to be getting, so they think the company is cheating them."
At least four complaints against Community Recycling have been lodged with the Ventura County district attorney's office, which has referred the case to its Consumer Mediation Unit. Melodianne Duffy, supervisor of the unit, said she was awaiting a response from the company before launching an investigation to determine whether any criminal violation had occurred.
Increased recycling, particularly because of a recent wave of mandatory programs around the country, is blamed by industry experts for the glut in the paper market. Increased supply without increased demand, according to economic axiom, usually results in a price drop. And the price has indeed dropped.
Early last year, a ton of old newspapers could fetch as much as $100 from a recycling company in California. By last summer and through the fall, it hovered between $50 and $40 a ton. Then, between December and January, the bottom fell out, and today, many companies are simply refusing to pay a cent.
"This is the beginning of the end for anybody who wants to make money recycling newspapers," said Bob Fagan, president of Sun Valley Paper Stock Inc. and one of the directors of the Recycling Coalition of California. "The supply and demand cycle has been disrupted forever more."
According to the American Paper Institute in New York, 13 million tons of newspaper was printed in the United States last year. Of that, 4.5 million tons were collected for recycling.
Although demand for used paper is expected to increase this year by another 300,000 tons, municipalities desperately trying to conserve dwindling landfill space are initiating mandatory recycling programs at an even faster rate, said J. Rodney Edwards, vice president of the institute's Paperboard Group.
"We are in a period of transformation where it would appear that municipal collection programs are tending to replace charitable group paper programs," Rodney said. "I don't know how long this is going to continue, . . . but I think it will be difficult for charitable groups to compete."
That means several hundred dollars a year less each for some Ventura elementary schools, including Pointsettia, Loma Vista, Montalvo, Mound and Pierpont. It also means the loss of a little extra cash for Ventura's College United Methodist Church, Temple Beth Torah, the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura and the Boys & Girls Club of Oxnard.
"I really feel badly about it," said Jane Goldschmidt, executive director of the Ventura Boys & Girls Club. "But we'll just have to readjust our budget and try to think up new and exciting ways to make up that lost income."