Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Agricultural Economics

Major Professor

William M. Park

Committee Members

Luther H. Keller, Ray G. Huffaker


Rural community decision makers have come under increased pressure to deal with solid waste disposal in a cost effective and acceptable manner. As siting of new landfills has become more difficult due to environmental restrictions and public opposition, alternative disposal methods have received increased attention. Recycling can be viewed as a way to divert materials from the solid waste stream to be landfilled, as well as providing other benefits. While some research has been done on rural solid waste collection and landfill disposal systems, very little attention has been given to the potential for rural recycling. Rural recycling has generally been viewed as impractical due to relatively small supplies of materials and large distances to industry markets. This research was designed to assess the economic feasibility of rural recycling by analyzing three case study recycling operations, one each in Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Economic feasibility, defined as "breaking even" when only sales revenues from recyclable materials and full operating costs are considered, would be very difficult to achieve for communities the size of those studied, given the market prices present during the study period. However, from a local accounting stance, outside funding sources, such as grants provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority for equipment or special local and state subsidies for labor, helped to reduce net costs of operation for each center. In addition, each center generated considerable landfill cost savings by diverting recyclable materials out of the solid waste stream. When these cost savings were taken into account, net costs of operation were greatly reduced. In fact, in the case of one center, landfill cost savings more than offset net operating costs. The need to site new landfills was also delayed, thereby postponing the political or protest costs generally associated with landfill siting efforts. Other local benefits included supplemental income for residents and improved aesthetics from reduced litter.

The quantity of recyclable materials collected plays a key role in influencing economic feasibility. Analyses of each center demonstrated the potential for substantial economies of size within their existing scales. The net cost per ton of recycled material processed was also reduced as the quantity collected increased and more efficient large scale equipment was introduced. From statistical analyses and personal surveys of those responsible for managing or overseeing each center, it could be concluded that several factors were critical in influencing the volume of material collected. These included education of local residents and publicity about recycling activities, prices offered for materials, the variety of materials accepted, and the accessibility of the center.

While economic feasibility in a strict sense may be difficult to achieve for rural recycling centers, the continued operation of the three centers studied here for over four years suggests they have achieved feasibility in a broader sense, given the availability of outside funding and the indirect benefits generated. Local political and com munity support has been important to the "success" of these centers from the time of their establishment up to the present.

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