The Right Direction

Both sides of the municipal solid waste (MSW) equation improved in 2005, according to a report released in October by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). MSW generation decreased by 1.6 million tons from 2004, marking the only recent decline, while recycled materials increased 1.2 million tons, for a total recovery rate of 32.1 percent.

The report, which contains regional and national information from 1960 through 2005, is intended by EPA to be used, in part, for assessing MSW needs across the country. It also provides a snapshot of MSW trends, such as the significant jump in combustion with energy recovery that occurred from 1980 to 1990 and the steady annual decline of the number of landfills.

Paper and paperboard remained the largest segment of generated MSW, accounting for 34 percent of the waste stream, followed by yard trimmings at 13 percent, and food scraps and plastics at approximately 12 percent each. Americans produced nearly 246 millions tons of MSW in 2005, or 4.54 pounds per person. While the total tonnage generated each year has increased 40 million tons since 1990, the pounds per person per day is nearly the same.

Contributing to the increase in recovery rates, Americans composted 62 percent of yard trimmings and recycled 50 percent of paper and paperboard and 37 percent of metals. Yard waste programs remain popular, with nearly 3,470 in place. Curbside recycling programs also rose to 8,550, giving nearly half of Americans access to such an option.

Overall, nearly one-third of MSW was recycled, 13 percent combusted with energy recovery and 54 percent landfilled or otherwise disposed of.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson discussed the findings at the National Recycling Coalition's (NRC) 25th annual conference in Atlanta. During the October event, EPA, NRC, and several food and beverage organizations also announced a partnership to “re-energize America's commitment to recycling.” The campaign will focus on creating a clear and consistent message for Americans about recycling.