For decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been providing information on the recycling, reuse and generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) in its MSW Characterization Report, “Municipal Solid Waste in the United States.” To create this report, however, the EPA is currently using the same methodology it has used since the 1960s. Needless to say, MSW in the U.S. has changed in the last 50 years.
The report may not be out of date for much longer, however, as two separate efforts—one at the EPA and one in Congress—are likely to change the way data about recycling is collected and reported:
What these two efforts make clear is that everyone—from all segments of the recycling industry to policy makers and regulators—agrees that the current data describing the industry is inadequate.
One of these inadequacies can be found in the way recovery rates are calculated. The current MSW report measures how much material is diverted from the waste stream, but not how much of that material is actually usable in manufacturing processes.
Jonathon Gold, SVP of the Recovery and Recycling Division at The Newark Group, recently told a Congressional committee that the amount of contamination in the recycled material that comes into his mill can range from 15-22 percent. “To a large extent this is caused by single-stream collection, a curbside collection process that allows for all material to be collected in one bin vs. separating paper from all other collected material. This material is still counted by the [state] as ‘recycled.’ What is too contaminated for us to recycle in our mills ends up at the landfill casting serious question on the ‘true’ recovery rate. Improved data would help us get a better handle on this problem in order to identify solutions.”
To read more about these two efforts, follow the links in the bulleted list above.