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New white paper offers updated information on U.S. MSW recycling rates

First study to integrate national MSW recovery rate data and distinguish between residential versus ICI sectors

New white paper offers updated information on U.S. MSW recycling rates

Bill Moore of Moore & Associates and Peter Engel of Kessler Consulting have announced the release of the white paper that sheds light on "real" recovery rates of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the United States. entitled "Demystifying MSW Recycling Rates".

"With so much emphasis on recycling and diversion in the market right now, there is a huge amount of confusion and contradiction about recycling rates," stated Mr. Moore. Mr. Engel continued, “A common foundation is essential for meaningful discussion and comparison among national, state, and local jurisdictions. This white paper provides some clarity that should help advance the dialog."

The project team believes this is the first study to integrate national MSW recovery rate data and distinguish between residential versus industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) sectors.

Some of the key findings of this study are:

  • Recent research and the authors’ analysis suggests that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) MSW recovery and disposal numbers, which are widely referenced by stakeholders, may underestimate national MSW generation and overestimate recovery.
  • Comparing local government recovery rates to national statistics is rarely valid. Furthermore, the diversity of methods that state and local governments use to calculate recovery rates makes comparison amongst jurisdictions highly susceptible to misinterpretation.
  • The authors estimate that 60% of MSW is generated by the ICI sector versus 40% by the residential sector.
  • Estimated materials recovery is 24.1% of MSW nationally, with organics recovery adding another 7.7%, for a total of 31.8%, less than EPA’s 34.4% recovery rate.
  • The authors estimate that the ICI sector recovers 31% of its MSW through materials recycling, while residential materials recovery is estimated to be 14% of MSW generated.

According to Mr. Engel, "This study examines the challenge that the recycling community faces when comparing recovery data. It identifies the fundamental differences between local versus national recovery rates. In particular, our analysis indicates that the majority of materials recovery occurs in the ICI sector, not the residential sector, which has important implications for understanding the challenges and opportunities to achieve aggressive recovery goals."

The white paper concludes with recommendations for future improvement of recycling rates and ensuring they are measured consistently across all jurisdictions.

The white paper is available by e-mailing either Bill Moore or Peter Engel.

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