Friday, October 26, 2012

Recycling middlemen: five to eight bucks a bag

For a while I've been watching from a distance how middleman operations with trucks go around after dark buying cans and bottles from recyclers who work on foot. Been wondering how much the truck operators make from saving collectors the long slog to one of the conventional recycling buyers -- and/or the long cold wait until morning for the buying station to open -- and/or maybe some pesky ID or provenance issues but that would be only a guess.

So there were some high-sided pickup trucks taking in bags of recycling curbside and the couple running one of the trucks were kind enough to talk to me quickly.

The woman said a good-sized bag -- that seemed to mean Hefty-size, I suppose 20 gallons' capacity -- would get five to seven dollars.

The man was emptying a bag into his truck for a scrawny seller covered in blue tattoos. He paid the seller off by counting out one-dollar bills one at a time for maximum satisfaction.

On foot, downtown, it takes either a lot of work or connections with a nightspot to fill a Hefty bag with recyclables that nobody else is claiming or anyway guarding at the moment.

When the tattoed seller went away, the man at the truck -- the more talkative partner -- confirmed that, yes, five to seven dollars would be usual. It would depend on the contents of the bag: less for glass, more for aluminum cans or plastic refund bottles. He held his hand about three feet off the ground to show the size of a really good big bag that would bring eight dollars.

Now, this is a part I didn't quite understand: he seemed to be saying if he paid out $120 he might make $150. I didn't press too hard for clarity -- didn't want to sound like someone with a clipboard. So I don't know if he meant $150 gross or profit. Would guess maybe gross. So the buyers would make $30 for a night's buying session. Not much of an hourly wage for two people considering the time it would take to sort the bottles and then to turn them in. He dropped back from certainty on the profit level though, saying, sometimes you make more than other times but you always get something.

Which goes to show what?

Maybe that where there's formal awkwardness -- created, for example, by our shortage of conventional recycling buyback centers -- someone will sell informal convenience.

Maybe that, no matter how thin a margin gets, there's a way to split it again.

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