What's New with MSW

THE U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA), Washington, D.C., defines recycling as a series of activities that includes collecting post-consumer materials that would otherwise be considered waste; sorting and processing them into raw materials; and manufacturing those raw materials into new products. Collection of residential recyclables occurs through four primary methods: curbside collection, drop-off centers, buy-back centers and container deposit programs.

In 2001, there were more than 9,700 curbside recyclables collection programs in the United States that served some 139.3 million people, or nearly half of the U.S. population. Curbside collection was most prevalent in the Northeast where 82 percent of the population was serviced by this method. The latest data, from 1997, showed that there were some 12,694 drop-off centers. Ten states had container deposit laws, including Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont. California has a similar system where containers are redeemed, but consumers did not pay a deposit.

Collected recyclables are typically sent to a materials recovery facility (MRF) where they are sorted by component and prepared into marketable commodities for remanufacturing. In 2001, there were some 480 MRFs operating in the United States, with an estimated total daily throughput of 61,971 tons per day (tpd). The most extensive recyclables-processing throughput occurs in the West and South, where more than 17,000 tpd were processed. The average throughput per facility was 129 tpd in 2001, with the West having the largest average throughput per facility at 164 tpd.

According to the EPA, the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) recycled in 2001 was 68 million tons or 29.7 percent of the total MSW generated (229.2 million tons). The amount of MSW recycled has steadily increased since 1960, when only 5.6 million tons were recycled.

In 2002, eight states attained or exceeded the EPA's latest recycling goal of 30 percent, including Arkansas (36.3%), California (40.2%), Iowa (41.7%), Maine (49%), Minnesota (45.6%), Missouri (38.9%), New Jersey (37.9%) and Oregon (48.8%). Twelve states recycled less than 10 percent of their MSW with Mississippi (0.3%) having the lowest recycling rate of reporting states. The other 11 states included Colorado (2.8%), Georgia (8.3%), Idaho (8.4%), Louisiana (8.1%), New Mexico (6.5%), North Dakota (9.4%), Oklahoma (1%), South Dakota (3%), Utah (4.8%), West Virginia (6.9%) and Wyoming (1.7%).

Some percentage of almost every component of the waste stream is recycled. The largest single component of the waste stream recycled in 2001 was paper and paperboard (36.7 million tons), followed by yard trimmings (15.8 million tons). Yard trimmings had the highest rate of recycling when compared to the amount generated (56.5%), followed by paper and paperboard at 44.9 percent.

The information in this column was abstracted from a more comprehensive fact sheet that is part of series being developed by the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA).

Materials Recovery Facilities in 2001
Region Number of MRFs Estimated Throughput (tpd) Average Throughput (tpd)
Northeast 107 15,055 141
South 149 17,161 115
Midwest 117 12,188 104
West 107 17,567 164
U.S. Total 480 61,971 129

Edward Repa is the director, environmental programs, as NSWMA. He can be reached at (800) 424-2869 or erepa@envasns.org.

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