Room for Growth

GEORGIA LANDFILLS HAVE IT, and the state's manufacturers want it. Hundreds of thousands of tons of recyclable material that could have been raw material for Georgia's mills are getting buried every year in the state's landfills, according to a study by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA.) By weight, more than a quarter of the waste entering the state's municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills consists of recyclable paper products. Based on 2004 disposal data, that comes to 1.9 million tons of paper products.

“This data shows what public and private sector recycling experts in Georgia have long suspected: that there is ample opportunity to increase waste diversion,” says Randy Hartmann, director of the DCA's Office of Environmental Management. “We hope to work with local governments and the private sector to get more recyclable material out of garbage trucks and into delivery trucks.”

The Peach State is home to some of the strongest recycling markets in the Southeast, and the area's carpet, paper and aluminum mills want to boost in-state materials recovery. Overseas competition for the material and soaring fuel costs make the need even more urgent. DCA is working with private industry, local governments and non-profits to boost recyclable collection and get these materials to the reuse market.

DCA's study reveals that 2.6 million tons — nearly 40 percent — of the state's landfilled waste is comprised of commonly recyclable materials that have existing reuse markets. Georgians spend more than $90 million to throw away material that is worth more than $250 million to Georgia-based industries. The 10 recyclable materials most commonly found in Georgia landfills and their percentage of the state's 2004 landfilled waste are:

  • Corrugated cardboard, 11 percent (733,866 tons)
  • Newspaper, 4.8 percent (322,001 tons)
  • Office paper, 3.4 percent (225,580 tons)
  • Mixed paper, 3 percent (199,640 tons)
  • Magazines, 2.6 percent (176,437 tons)
  • Other ferrous metals, 2.6 percent (175,449 tons)
  • Clear glass, 1.7 percent (112,492 tons)
  • Steel cans, 1.3 percent (89,680 tons)
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, 1.3 percent (89,577 tons)
  • Amber glass, 1.1 percent (79,405 tons)

With so much of the landfilled waste consisting of paper products, Georgia's paper mills stand to benefit significantly from improved diversion rates. According to Bill Moore, President of Atlanta-based paper recycler Moore & Associates, Georgia's paper industry is responsible for $10 billion in annual shipments of paper products, employs 25,000 workers with an annual payroll of $1 billion, and consumed 2.7 million tons of recovered paper in 2003, which was 7.7 percent of the total recovered paper used in the United States. To meet the American Forest and Paper Association's goal of 55 percent recovery by 2012, Georgia's paper industry will need to recycle an additional 12 million tons of paper per year.

There are 15 paper mills in Georgia that rely on recycling collection programs to generate the fiber they need for operations. Those mills compete with rising energy costs and pressures from China, which is buying tremendous amounts of recovered material from the United States to fuel their paper production. SP Newsprint's Dublin, Ga., mill alone needs 850,000 tons of old newspapers each year to keep its paper machines rolling. North Georgia's carpet mills may be even more frustrated — one out of every three PET containers collected for recycling in the United States goes to North Georgia's carpet mills.

To boost recovery rates, Georgia Recycling Coalition's Paper Council, comprised of paper industry members and DCA, began holding Paper Recycling Industry Days earlier this year at Georgia mills. The purpose is to provide local officials the opportunity to tour mills and see an overview of the paper recycling industry's impact in the state and how Georgia fits into the national and global markets. The first event was held in April, a second tour was conducted in October, and plans are underway to hold an event in the spring of 2006.

For more information about the tours, the waste characterization study or DCA's programs, contact DCA's Office of Environmental Management at 404-679-4940.

The complete waste characterization study is available online and can be downloaded at

Joe Dunlop
Program Coordinator
Georgia Dept. of Community Affairs