Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Here’s something to ponder from the editorial staff at Resource Recycling: The most recent report on municipal solid waste (MSW) from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is for the year 2011. It states that in that year 66.2 million tons of MSW were recovered for recycling out of a total of 250.4 million tons generated.
Now compare that with the year 2007, the last full year before the U.S. economy went into recession. That year Americans generated 256.5 tons of municipal solid waste, 6.1 million tons more than in 2011, despite there being 10.4 million more Americans generating the waste in 2011 than there were in 2007. The most obvious reason would be the decrease in consumer purchasing during that time.
The level of recycling from 2007 to 2011 had a different trajectory. In 2011, 66.2 million tons of municipal solid waste were recovered for recycling, an increase of 3 million tons over 2007.
So we see that as America’s MSW decreased by 2.4 percent from 2007 to 2011, the part of it recovered for recycling rose by 5 percent. On a per capita basis, the recycling level over those years was nearly flat, 1.54 pounds per day per person in 2007 and 1.53 pounds per day per person in 2011.
The Resource Recycling article noted that overall gains in recycling have begun to level off during the last decade, and quoted from a statement it received from the EPA in that regard: “There may be varying reasons why there has been a plateau, from limited expansion, enhancement of recycling infrastructure and programs to limited resources. This is why EPA has been focusing our attention on sustainable materials management, which encourages the use and reuse of materials in the most productive and sustainable way across their entire life cycle.”
Without substantially more information, it’s best to not make too much of the recycling upswing during the recession, but good to be aware of it. However, it would be to everyone’s benefit if there were stronger dedication to recycling from all parties affected — meaning every human on the planet — including those at the EPA.
Download the full EPA report here.