"If you have to process every pound of material using a chemical, I don't know how you can compete against a smelter," said Magann.
Not surprisingly, the recycling industry is very sensitive to commodity prices.
Bob Houghton, CEO at Sage Sustainable Electronics points out that when oil was $140 a barrel, you could justify the expense of separating plastics from the electronics. Plastics are made from oil.
When oil reached $75 a barrel -- it's now at about $45 a barrel -- "virgin plastics became as competitive as recycled plastics," said Houghton.
Gold prices move sharply as well. In 2012 it was selling for more than $1,800 an ounce, or $500 more than today.
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