„Making sense of the mix“: Evolving US recycling stream is subject of a new report

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Abfalltonnen (Foto: © Rolf van Melis / http://www.pixelio.de)

Washington, DC, USA — A new report on „Making Sense of the Mix: Analysis and Implications of the Changing Curbside Recycling Stream“ provides insights into the changes in the mix of materials commonly collected in the curbside recycling cart in the United States. It analyzes how those changes have impacted the existing recycling infrastructure and how the entire value chain is adapting to recycle and recover more of these materials. The report primarily focuses on plastics. The analysis is based on research and interviews conducted by Resource Recycling, including reviews of publically available reports and information.

The most interesting key findings show:

  • The U.S. recycling infrastructure was largely built to process the volume and material mix of recyclables from the 1990s and the projected growth from that base. The volume and mix has changed in unexpected ways and at a more rapid pace than expected. This has resulted in MRF processing systems, assets and technology that are often not well matched with current or projected material flows.
  • Newsprint in municipal solid waste went from 7 million tons in 1960 to 15.5 million tons in 2000. It then collapsed back to 8 million tons in 2012. A significant portion of the U.S. recycling infrastructure was developed in the 1990s and was built around capturing the large volumes of paper and other fiber once found in MSW.
  • In recent years, municipalities have addressed perceived dissatisfaction with stalled recycling growth rates and resident confusion of what is recyclable by implementing „single-stream“ recycling. Single-stream recycling involves large capacity carts for homeowners and commingles all recyclables in one receptacle. The positive results – higher volumes of materials collected and lowered collection costs – are somewhat offset by the unintended consequences of more contamination, glass breakage and significant „tag-along“ volumes of materials.
  • Despite these rapid changes over a short time frame, many of these trends point to a continued resolve between materials and packaging manufacturers, brand owners, recyclers, and communities. Stakeholders are working to adapt and implement new technologies and programs that maximize the recycling and recovery of valuable materials in the ever evolving stream of waste.

The full report on „Making Sense of the Mix“ can be downloaded from plastics.americanchemistry.com.

Source: American Chemistry Council, Inc.