Percentage Recovery by Material and by Year, 1960 to 2018
(as % of Waste Generated)
Source: U.S. EPA
Recently released numbers by the EPA on recycling reflect what Waste Business Journal has been saying for years: that recycling has stagnated and even declined in recent years. In their new report, EPA data shows the combined recycling and composting rate increased from less than 10 percent of generated MSW in 1980 to 35 percent in 2017 but then dipped to 32 percent in 2018. EPA says part of the decline is due to increases in waste generation that has outpaced modest recycling progress.
In addition to waste generation outpacing the growth of recycling infrastructure, there are other reasons for stalling recycling rate improvement. The more recent recycling rate decline came amid a period of upheaval in global recycling markets. China in 2018 began tightly restricting imports of recyclables as part of its National Sword campaign, impacting pricing and recovery rates.
But there are longer term structural issues also at play. In a sense, you can say we have already picked all the low hanging fruit as most communities now have curbside recycling programs. And today those communities that manage them are often cash strapped and barely able to maintain, let alone expand existing programs. The movement to single-stream recycling programs was a double-edged sword that brought big advances in community participation but also new challenges from product contamination...Read More »