From the Can: Big Opportunity

If further significant recycling rate boosts are to happen, the waste industry must pursue wide-scale diversion of food waste.

Over the course of nearly 40 years, the nation’s municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling rate experienced a healthy boost. In 1960, the rate stood at a measly 6.4 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); by 2009, the rate had climbed to 33.8 percent. If the rate is to make another significant jump in the coming decades, where might the improvement come from?

Food waste seems to be a solid bet. In 2009, according to EPA, only 2.5 percent of the food scraps generated in this country were diverted from landfills. However, waste firms like Waste Management and local governments throughout the country, particularly those on the West Coast, are taking an increasing interest in diverting food waste to create compost and other valuable end products. And a new survey by the National Restaurant Association indicates restaurateurs might be willing to help the cause. According to the study, roughly two-thirds of the nation’s restaurant operators have some type of recycling program in place, and 17 percent plan to start recycling within the next year. However, only 28 percent currently recycle food waste in some form or fashion. Clearly, restaurant operators are embracing recycling in general, but they need the help of the solid waste industry to begin diverting their most abundant waste. For more on this survey and its implications for the solid waste sector, turn to “Chew on This” (page 6), written by former Waste and Recycling News Editor Allan Gerlat.

• A Few Programming Notes. On page 22 of this issue, you’ll notice a new column. It’s called “Collected Thoughts,” and each month it will feature guest commentary by a different waste industry figure. This month, consultant and EIA Hall of Famer Ron McCracken gives his take on EPR laws and how the waste industry should respond to them. Interested in writing a guest commentary? Propose one here.

Also, be sure to check out our new site,, for an array of video interviews and photo galleries compiled by the Waste Age editors at last month’s WasteExpo in Dallas. The interviewees include Ron Mittelstaedt of Waste Connections, Bryan Staley of EREF, Chaz Miller of NSWMA and industry analyst Michael Hoffman of Wunderlich Securities.

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