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A Word About Recycling with Ollie Maier

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Resource Recycling newsletter article referenced in last week’s recycling column mentioned recycling in the U.S. is not increasing as desired but has been staying relatively constant for the past few years. Today we will continue by covering a few figures given in that newsletter article for some materials recycled. The figures are from a 2015 report, the last complete report available.

The report qualified the figures by explaining they are estimated recycling rates by material type. The figures include materials in both durable and nondurable goods from residential, commercial and institutional sources. Showing their figures below, they reflect the changes in recycled amounts between 2014 and 2015.

  • Paper and paperboard: 66.6 percent (up from 64.7 percent)
  • Glass: 26.4 percent (up from 26.0 percent)
  • Steel: 33.3 percent (up from 33.0 percent) 
  • Aluminum: 18.5 percent (down from 19.8 percent)
  • Other nonferrous metals: 67.6 percent (up from 66.7 percent)
  • Plastics: 9.1 percent (down from 9.5 percent)
  • Rubber and leather: 17.8 percent (up from 17.5 percent)
  • Textiles: 15.3 percent (down from 16.2 percent)
  • Wood: 16.3 percent (up from 15.9 percent)
  • Other materials: 27.7 percent (down from 29.1 percent)
  • Food scraps: 5.3 percent composting rate (up from 5.1 percent)
  • Yard trimmings: 61.3 percent (up from 61.1 percent)

The U.S. landfilled 52.5 percent of its Municiple Solid Waste (MSW) in 2015, down from 52.6 percent the year before – a “down” I liked. It burned 12.8 percent for energy recovery, flat year over year.

Another article in the same newsletter asked the question: “Is this the recycling rate of the future?” A professor at the University of Florida, who studied waste-related issues extensively over the past decade, hopes to come up with a better way to determine recycling rates. He believes we should stick with the tried and true concept of a recycling rate, but find a new way to calculate such a figure. This would be to include other factors besides just tons of materials generated and tons recycled.

He feels if other factors were considered, beside just natural resources and energy saved, more people might realize the full extent of what all the benefits of recycling are – and thus be more willing to recycle.

This partly came about because in 2008, Florida established a goal of hitting 75 percent recycling by 2020. But the present outlook of meeting that goal does not look good. In 2016, the most recent figures available, Florida’s statewide recycling rate was 56 percent – considerably below the 75 percent desired.

Thus the professor’s team started looking for models thinking about product streams in another way. Unfortunately, this means finding a way to set goals and articulate progress in a language and units that residents and government leaders can grasp. He believes through his efforts, they can find a way.

Towards this effort, he and his research team are also studying three other states – California, Maryland and Minnesota – to see what data they have which might be helpful.

The article ended with a positive note: “We’re trying to put it in a tangible, recognizable form for policymakers and others.”

Let’s hope they are successful and if they are, you’ll be sure to see it in this column.

Till next week, do have an enjoyable and safe one...

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Ollie is a local citizen concerned with the environment and helping others. A retired Air Force fighter and instructor pilot, he is a graduate of Leadership San Marcos and received his degrees at Texas State University where he worked on staff before totally retiring. For questions or comments, he invites you to call him at 512-353-7432 or e-mail omaier@txstate.edu.