June 19, 2015
The data on municipal solid waste (MSW) for 2013 just released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presents a cornucopia of information about the waste and recycling industry. Waste360’s gallery on the annual report gives a broad look at key statistics. Here are some other insights into the latest report, as well as some history.
The U.S. recycling rate has been declining, if ever so slightly, according to the EPA. The latest recycling rate of 34.3 percent slipped from 34.5 percent in 2012 and 34.7 percent in 2011. But that’s still an increase from the 34.0 percent in 2010.
The highest recycling rate came from paper and paperboard, with 63.3 percent recovered. Yard trimmings were next with 60.2 percent, and metals came in a distant third among materials with 34.1 percent.
The largest groupings of materials discarded in the municipal solid waste stream in the EPA report for 2013 remained steady for 2013. The biggest category, food, remained constant at 21.1 percent of the total. Plastics was next and increased slightly to 17.7 percent from 17.6 percent. Paper rose slightly as a share of the pie, to 15.1 percent from 14.8.
Americans generated a total of 75.8 million tons of containers and packaging in 2013. Corrugated cardboard made up 40 percent of that total. Wood packaging was next at 12 percent. For plastics packaging, bags, sacks and wraps totaled 5 percent.
Containers and packaging discarded totaled 36.7 million tons after recycling. The materials making up the biggest portion of the discards was wood packaging at 19 percent; non-corrugated paper packaging at 17 percent; and other plastics packaging at 13 percent.
Landfill tipping fees had a mean average of $49.78 in 2013, according to the EPA survey. That’s a decline from a previous high of $49.99 but up from $46.84 in 2010. The figures are in constant 2013 dollars using the Consumer Price Index for meaningful comparisons.
Tipping fees have increased an average of 83 cents per year from 2004 to 2013. From 1995 to 2004 tipping fees fell 77 cents per year on average. From 1985 to 1995 the figures rose an average of $3.15 per year.
Average mean tip fees in 1995 were nearly as high as today, at $49.21. That compares to a low of $17.75 in 1985. For the EPA report the data goes back to 1980.
The golden growth era for recycling was 1985 to 1995. After climbing slowly from 6.4 percent in 1960 to 10.5 percent in 1985, the recycling rate jumped to 16.6 percent in 1990 and 25.7 percent in 1990. It since has somewhat plateaued to the current rate of 34.3 percent.
Waste generation has followed a somewhat different path. It grew a steady climb to a total of 208.3 million tons in 1990. The growth has since tapered off, to its current level of 254.1 million tons.