What is recycling?
Recycling is the collection of used products and their processing into raw materials that can be used to manufacture new products. Making newsprint from old newspapers, new glass bottles from used glass bottles and new cans from used beverage cans are examples of recycling.
How are recyclables collected?
Recyclables are collected in a variety of ways. In curbside collection residents place their recyclables are the curb for collection. The majority of Americans who live in urban or suburban single-family housing have curbside collection of their recyclables. Drop-off centers or buy-back centers are centralized locations where people take their recyclables to donate (drop-off center) or sell (buy-back center). In eleven states, beverage containers are returned through deposit programs in which a deposit paid on the container when it is bought is redeemed when the empty container is returned.
How many curbside collection programs and drop-off centers are in America?
In 2008, 8,659 curbside recyclables collection programs operated in the United States. These programs served almost 146,000,000 people, or nearly half of the United States population. Curbside collection was most prevalent in the Northeast where 84 percent of the population had access to this method, followed by the West where 76 percent of the population was served by curbside programs. Data for drop-off centers is not as recent, but in 1997, 12,694 drop-off centers operated in the United States. In some areas with sparse populations, drop-off centers may be the only option for the collection of recyclable materials.
Which states have deposit laws?
Eleven states have beverage container deposit laws. Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Vermont have nickel or dime deposits. Michigan has a dime deposit. In California, the consumer does not pay a deposit, as such, but the price of the beverage includes a “redemption value” which can be redeemed by the purchaser or by a recycling program operator. These states vary as to which beverage containers require deposits. In some states, deposits are paid only on beer and soft drink containers and in some states, water and fruit juice bottles also require a deposit.
What is a materials recovery facility (MRF)?
Collected recyclables are usually sent to a materials recovery facility (MRF) where they are sorted and processed into marketable commodities for manufacturing.
How many material recovery facilities are in operation?
In 2008, 545 MRFs were operating in the United States. These facilities had an estimated total daily throughput of 82,684 tons per day.
How much of our trash is recycled?
According to EPA, we recycled or composted 82.9 million tons of our trash in 2008 for a 33.2 percent recycling rate. Recycling has steadily increased since 1960 when only 5.6 million tons, or 6.4 percent, of our garbage was recycled.
Measuring the recycling rate at the state or local level can be very challenging. EPA has developed a methodology to help improve the accuracy of this data.
What is recycled?
Almost every component of the waste stream is being recycled. According to EPA data, lead acid batteries have the highest recycling rate (99.2%) while corrugated boxes are the most recycled by weight (25.08 million tons). Paper and paperboard products were the most recycled component of the waste stream by weight (42.94 million tons) followed by yard trimmings (21.3 million tons). The recycling rates for commonly recycled consumer goods in 2008 are provided below.
United States Recycling Rates in 2008
||Percent Recycling of
|Paper and paperboard in packaging
|Paper and paperboard in nondurable goods
|Glass in packaging
|Steel in packaging
|Steel in durable goods
|Plastics in durable goods
|Plastics in packaging
|Rubber and leather
|Textiles in durable goods
|Textiles in nondurable goods
|Wood in packaging
What is being done to increase the recycling rate?
For recycling rates to increase, participation in every phase of the recycling loop (collection, sorting and processing, remanufacturing) must occur. Residents and businesses need to put all of their properly prepared recyclables out for collection. All of us need to buy products made with recycled content. Businesses need to manufacture more recycled-content products and become involved in local and state recycling organizations. Local governments need to improve the efficiency of collection programs, practice full cost accounting, and identify opportunities to increase recycling rates. EPA provides information on how to increase recycling rates.
What costs more – recycling or disposal?
Just like garbage collection and disposal, recycling costs money. Recyclables must be collected and processed. And not all markets pay for recyclables. Some charge a fee to take them. Disposal also costs money. Garbage must be collected, transported to a disposal site and a “tipping fee” must be paid to the landfill or incinerator. Moreover, costs vary across the country. Disposal prices, for instance, are higher in the northeast than in other areas. Collection costs can vary from city to city, depending on population density, geography, frequency of collection, number of crew members on a truck, etc. As a result, the question of which costs more depends heavily on local circumstances. Assessing how recycling will impact your community requires a full appraisal of the environmental and economic benefits of recycling and waste disposal.
Markets for most recyclables, especially paper, were strong and relatively steady for a four year period that ended in November, 2008. Those healthy markets helped the economics of many curbside recycling programs. With the sudden, precipitous slide that paper, metal and plastic recycling markets took in 2009, many local recycling programs were forced to work harder to find operational efficiencies and to shore up political support for their continuation. Since then, while a few small programs have closed down, more programs have expanded. Nonetheless, local governments continue to face challenging budget decisions in 2010.
Generally a new recycling program adds an "incremental", or additional, cost to the overall cost of solid waste management. The challenge for recycling programs is to find ways to lower costs and do away with that incremental cost increase.
Can all trash be recycled?
Theoretically, yes, but the cost to recycle some materials will far exceed any benefit derived from recycling. At one time, EPA thought that 25 percent was a good national recycling goal. Then they raised the goal to 30 percent and now support a 35 percent goal.