Averages, what do they tell us? Not enough if the underlying data is wide-ranging. In the world of recycling the range is very wide.
On average, according to the EPA, 60% of the population in the United States has access to curbside recycling programs. As you can see on the map, availability varies widely by region.
Even within these regions, curbside recycling availability is most common within urban settings, likely due to the higher cost/inconvenience of transport in less densely populated rural areas.
By region, the impact on recovery of recycled materials (MRF throughput) is strongly correlated to curbside availability. As the graph shows, the north east recovers more than twice the amount of recycled material per person than the south. There are options for those who don’t have the convenience of curbside programs, but it takes an extra effort for the individual to take their recyclable materials to a local recycling center. The EPA notes this website Earth911.com where you can search for recycling centers near you.
254 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) were produced in this country in 2007 according to the EPA report. 64 million tons of this MSW comes in the form of materials the average American “thinks” of as items we recycle. (Plastic and glass bottles or containers, paper, cardboard, food cans and aluminum cans.) On average, according to the EPA, in 2007, 54% of this amount still ended up in landfills.
Here’s another example of the variation in recycling programs and efforts. Only 11 states in the U.S. have some type of deposit program for drink containers (water and soda bottles, aluminum cans, glass bottles.)
Programs such as these do make a difference. Again, according to the EPA 2007 report, about 35% of all recovery of beverage containers comes from ten of the eleven states with deposit rules. California, the eleventh state (where beverage distributors also pay a per container fee), is responsible for 20% of all recovered beverage containers in the United States!
Bottom line, averages or no, even the best recycling areas have opportunity for significant gains.
What can you do? Visit your EPA Region websites and see what’s happening in your area. Let them know what you think about the programs that are available and what’s missing.
Chad M. Wall