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Water/Waste Processing e-News / Municipal

US solid waste recycling rates on the rise

July 09, 2013
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Photo credit: trekandshoot/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Recycling rates in the United States are on the rise, as new data from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report reveals that 66.2 million tons of municipal solid waste were collected for recycling in 2011. This figure exceeded data from the previous year by 1.24 million tons, the report noted.

The EPA report, called Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2011 Facts and Figures, found that while recycling rates nationwide increased by about 5 percent, the total amount of municipal solid waste dropped by 2.4 percent, highlighting the constant efforts of municipalities and state and federal agencies to reduce waste and cut down on carbon emissions.

Overall, the United States generated 250 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2011. This amounted to 4.40 pounds per person per day, which is 6 percent less than in the period between 2007 and 2011.

Municipal solid waste is a term that includes everyday items, such as product packaging, clothes, appliances, bottles, food waste and batteries. Construction and demolition materials, municipal wastewater treatment sludge, non-hazardous industrial waste and other materials that can also be disposed of in landfills are not included in the term and therefore their recycling rates are not included in the EPA statistics.

Looking at specific materials, figures show that paper and paperboard remained the most recycled materials in the United States, with some 45.9 million tons of these recovered through recycling in 2011. This amount represented almost two-thirds of the entire U.S. generated paper and paperboard waste. About 40 percent of the generated paper and paperboard waste consisted of corrugated boxes.

Metal was also among the most recovered materials, with 7.51 million tons, or 34.2 percent of steel, aluminum and other nonferrous metals, being recovered. The latter category included lead from batteries, the EPA explained.

Plastics, which represented nearly 13% of the total amount of municipal solid waste, scored significantly lower recycling rates. Some 31.84 tons of plastic waste were generated, while just over eight percent, or 2.65 million tons, were recovered through recycling.

RELATED: Report calls for implementation of producer responsibility to boost recycling rates

Another category that still needs to improve in terms of recycling rates is food waste. It accounted for 14.5 percent of the total municipal solid waste in 2011 and less than four percent, or 1.40 million tons, were recovered for recycling, the EPA said.

The report showed that more than half of the yard trimmings waste generated in 2011 was recovered and recycled, which is good news, considering that grass clippings represent 13.5 percent of the total amount of waste. Glass recycling is also making progress and although the amount of glass waste is relatively small when compared to other materials, accounting for 4.6 percent of the total, as much as 27.6 percent of it was recycled in 2011.

The EPA stated that the report could be used by state agencies to examine regional variations in recoverability and recycling rates and to compare good practices to be used for improving performance. The report could also reveal the differences in waste generation and the levels of commercial and economic activity in various regions.

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