PRAIRIE CITY - The market for recyclable materials has vaporized, forcing Prairie City Recycling (PCR) to shut down at the end of the month.

Donna Becker, a board member for PCR, said organizers hope the closure will be temporary and they will be watching the markets to see if there's a way to restart even parts of the operation.

"We'll play it by ear," she said.

PCR will continue its scheduled hours, 9 a.m. to noon, for the next three Saturdays, but March 28 will be the last day for drop-offs.

The closure coincides with the shutdown of 4R Recycling, the Hines-based recycling operation that was asked to step in and take the Prairie City center's materials over the past year.

Wayne Baron, owner of 4R, said that with the global economic downturn and collapse of construction markets, the demand for recycled materials has disappeared. He said the last load of high-end paper he delivered to a recycling firm to the west side of the state cost him more than $1,000 after he figured in the labor and storage costs.

As the economy tanked in recent months, virtually all types of materials - except the industry-subsidized e-waste - meant losses for the company.

As an example of the market shifts, Baron said the price he could get for plastic milk jugs went from $400 a ton to $40 a ton - not worth the cost of transportation.

Now, many of the companies that purchased such materials in the past aren't even taking new shipments, he said.

Baron has already cut his Hines operation down to three days a week, and laid off his employees there. He plans to clear all materials from the Hines site over the coming month.

"I don't want to leave a mess," he said.

At one time, Baron had hoped to expand his operation into Canyon City or John Day to make the business more viable through increased volume. He was unable to secure a site for that expansion, however, and conceded last week that the unanticipated extent of the economic collapse "would have killed me anyway."

The Prairie City operation was manned by volunteers, but relied on 4R Recycling in the past year to make a go of things.

"None of us wants it to go away," said Becker.

She credited Baron with keeping the Prairie City operation going over the past year, despite difficult markets.

She said PCR turned to Baron when the cost of transporting the materials became too steep for the volunteer group to handle.

She stressed that the closure was "not because of Wayne - We were only able to operation for the past year because of him."

The shutdown comes despite demand from residents for places to take their glass, tin, plastics, paper and other materials.

"Last year, Prairie City Recycling alone sent out 73 tons of recyclable material," she said.

PCR has been in operation nearly 20 years, and organizers say it was a labor of love for the volunteers, especially longtime recycling advocate Ruth McFerren.

Area residents can still take many materials to the transfer station operated by Clark's Disposal, in west John Day.

Farrell Clark said the company takes newspaper, white paper, glass, cardboard, aluminum, batteries, and used motor oil at no charge. Plastics are not accepted, although he reminds people that some types of plastic bottles - such as water and sports drink bottles - can be returned to grocery stores under Oregon's revised bottle bill law.

Clark's also keeps drop boxes for newspaper and cardboard in Canyon City, Mt. Vernon and Dayville.

While the company continues to collect such materials, its operators also feel the shift in the recyclables market. For now, Clark said, they are just stockpiling many of the recycled materials.

"The place that takes paper in Portland isn't even accepting it right now," said Clark.

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