A new report sheds some light on the current state of recycling in the U.S. and the results are rather surprising. The report shows that $11.4 billion worth of recyclables enter U.S. landfills each year. This includes items like paper, cardboard, plastics and metal cans.
The new report, titled “Unfinished Business: The Case for Extended Producer Responsibility for Post-Consumer Packaging” was recently released by As You Sow, a non-profit organization out of San Francisco. The report states nearly $1.3 billion worth of recyclable paper products enter landfills each year and plastic materials make up the majority of the more than $11 billion in recyclables.
An article published in the L.A. Times takes a look at the problem from an energy standpoint. It states the U.S. could save about $12 billion per year in energy costs by increasing the national recycling rate. This is due to the fact it requires less energy to recycle materials into new products than it does to make new products from virgin materials.
The current recycling rate of paper and packaging products in the U.S. hovers around 50 percent. The Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark have far higher recycling rates at %72, %78, and %84, respectively. Part of the problem is the availability of curbside recycling programs in communities across the U.S. According to the As You Sow report, approximately 25 Percent of U.S. residents don’t have access to curbside recycling.
The information in this new report is alarming, but it’s important to point out what’s being done at municipal landfills across the country to alleviate some of the problem. Modern landfills utilize new technology to sort and remove recyclables from the municipal waste stream. Additionally, the EPA states there are a total of 86 landfills in the U.S. utilizing waste-to-energy technology to turn trash into energy. These facilities burn the trash to produce energy. The resulting smoke is filtered to ensure it doesn’t harm the environment, and the resulting ash is hauled off to the landfill.
The trash incineration process not only produces 2,720 megawatts of power nationwide each year, but it significantly reduces the amount of waste entering landfills. The new report doesn’t necessarily take into account the value added by waste-to-energy facilities. That said, recycling efforts in the U.S. can certainly be improved.
This is not an issue that the government or big business is solely responsible for; it starts with individuals. The average American produces more than 4.5 lbs. of trash per day, 80 percent of which is recyclable. We as individuals can help improve the state of recycling in the U.S. one empty can at a time.