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NEW EXCHANGE OPENS MARKET FOR OLD `JUNK’

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Old beer bottles and milk jugs could become new investments if a national marketplace for recyclable trash takes off.

The exchange opened Tuesday at the Chicago Board of Trade when Weyerhaeuser Co. bought 100 tons of old newspapers from Oswego County, N.Y., over the computerized system.The venture promises to boost recycling by setting quality standards and publicizing prices for used paper, glass and plastics. It can help small towns with curbside collection programs find big buyers of reusable materials.

Eventually, the Board of Trade may launch futures and options contracts for recyclables, creating a speculative market for what was once considered garbage.

"This is the biggest shot in the arm for recycling in this country since municipal recycling efforts began in the 1970s," said Mark Lichtenstein, Oswego County's trash manager and president of the National Recycling Coalition, which includes both buyers and sellers of recyclables.

The system already has 60 subscribers who paid $1,000 each for access to its electronic bulletin board. Users can offer or bid for materials or just check the prices at which recyclables are trading.

"With these transactions, America will take its recycling efforts from the current state, which are really not unlike having a national yard sale, to an electronic marketplace for recycled goods," said David Gardiner, an assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Currently, big companies buy most of their recyclable materials from brokers and commercial trash collectors with whom they have contracts. But small local governments are often at the mercy of local dealers because they lack knowledge of the value of their materials elsewhere.

In Washington state recently, corrugated cardboard was selling for $200 a ton in Seattle but just $35 in Spokane, according to David Dougherty, director of the Clean Washington Center, a state environmental agency.

Weyerhaeuser, a wood-products manufacturer based in Tacoma, Wash., and Oswego County agreed to make the first transaction because their state environmental offices helped create the exchange.

Weyerhaeuser paid $90 a ton for the Oswego County newsprint, which it will ship to a paper mill in Italy.

"Recycling is an investment, and whenever you can hook the supplier up to the end user, you minimize the risk involved," said Jason Plut, a spokesman for Weyer-haeu-ser, which recycled 2 million tons of paper last year. He said the recyclable exchange can cut costs for both sides by eliminating intermediaries.

Oswego County hopes the exchange will create enough demand for recyclables from its region to help revive the port of Oswego on Lake Ontario, about 50 miles northwest of Syracuse.

"We could cooperatively market recyclables with other small communities," Lichtenstein said. "The more quantity you have, the more market leverage you have, and therefore better prices."