What is recycling?
Recycling is the collection and processing of used into raw materials that can be used to manufacture new products. Making newsprint from old newspapers, new glass bottles from used glass bottles, new cans from used steel or aluminum cans and new plastic bottles or other plastic products from plastic bottles are examples of recycling.
How are recyclables collected?
Recyclables are collected in a variety of ways. In curbside collection, residents place their recyclables on the curb for collection. The majority of Americans who live in urban or suburban single-family housing have curbside collection of recyclables. Drop-off centers or buy-back centers are centralized locations where people take their recyclables to deposit (drop-off center) or sell (buy-back center). In ten states and one territory, beverage containers are returned through 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 2011, 9,800 curbside recyclables collection programs operated in the United States. These programs served 70 percent of the population. Curbside collection was most prevalent in the Northeast, where 85 percent of the population had access to this method, followed by the South where 79 was. 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?
Ten states and one territory have beverage container deposit laws. Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Guam 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 where they are sorted and processed into marketable commodities for manufacturing.
How many material recovery facilities are in operation?
In 2012, 633 MRFs were operating in the United States. These facilities had an estimated total daily throughput of 98,449 tons per day.
How much of our trash is recycled?
According to the EPA we recycled or composted 87 million tons of our trash in 2012 for a 34.5 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. In addition, comparing data between states can be misleading because they count different things. 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. Some highlights from the 2012 EPA report:
- 65.3 million tons, for a 37% product recycling rate
- 416 pounds per person per year
- 1.14 pounds per person per day
- Corrugated boxes, newspapers/groundwood paper, non-groundwood printed paper (office paper, etc.), glass bottles and lead acid batteries are the most recycled by weight.
- Lead-acid batteries, corrugated boxes, non-groundwood printed paper (office paper, etc.), steel cans and newspapers/groundwood paper have the highest recycling rates.
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. We all 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 (which might include hiring a contractor), practice full-cost accounting, and identify opportunities 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 waste-to-energy facility. 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 whether collecting and disposal of garbage costs more than recycling 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 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 programs were forced to find operational efficiencies and shore up political support for their continuation. Since then, markets have rebounded. Recyclables, however, are among the most dynamic of all commodities. As a result, their value tends to follow that of virgin raw materials and supply-and-demand cycles.
Generally a new recycling program adds an “incremental”, or additional, cost to the overall cost of 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 doing so. 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.