The Heap

Recent EPA Report Chronicles Recycling Growth

The U.S. EPA's recently released "Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2009 Facts and Figures" is a treasure trove of recycling statistics and really gives the reader a chance to see how this sector has grown over the years. According to the report, just 5.6 percent of the municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in the United States in 1960 was recycled. By 1980, the recycling rate only had grown to 9.6 percent.

By 2000, however, the recycling rate was 28.6 percent. Nine years later, the rate had reached 33.8 percent.

The report also provides statistics on how the recycling of certain components of the waste stream has increased over the decades (this information can be found on page 104 of the report). For example, the recycling rate for paper and paperboard was 15 percent in 1970; in 2009, the recycling rate for the materials was 62 percent. The recycling rate for yard trimmings has experienced even more dramatic growth: in 1970, the rate was less than .05 percent; by 2009, it had climbed to 60 percent.

The EPA's report also notes that more than 9,000 residential curbside recycling programs existed in the United States in 2009. The Northeast has the highest number of such programs with 3,619 residential curbside programs operating there in 2009. The Midwest had 3,286 programs in 2009, while the South had 1,157, and the West had 1,004. The EPA estimates that more than 70 percent of the U.S. population had access to a curbside recycling program in 2009.

As for recycling processing sites, the EPA estimates that 578 material recovery facilities (MRFs) were operating in the United States in 2009, with a total daily processing capacity of 86,353 tons per day. The South had the most MRFs as of two years ago, with 161 sites in the region. The Northeast had 147 MRFs, the Midwest had 144, and the West had 126.

As you may know, the 2009 report shows that, for the second straight year, Americans generated less MSW than they did in the preceding year. Before you go, you should check out Waste Age columnist Chaz Miller's take on the 2009 EPA report and what it portends for the future of waste management. Spoiler alert: he thinks the report is a big deal.