- A white paper called "Demystifying MSW Recycling Rates" - co-authored by Bill Moore of Moore & Associates and Peter Engel of Kessler Consulting Inc. - offers insight on U.S. recycling rate methodology.
- The paper says that almost any comparison between local and national recycling will be inaccurate because of the different methods used to calculate recovery rates.
- The EPA's national 34% recovery rate is also challenged by the authors. Based on their research they estimate the rate is closer to 28%, with organic material making up 5% of that total.
Another important point is the differences in generation and recovery between the residential and industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sectors. The authors estimate that the ICI sector is responsible for 61% of the municipal solid waste generated, with residential making up the other 39%. Yet the ICI sector recovers nearly twice as much of the materials it generates.
These numbers are similar to findings that the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) released last fall. By getting reports directly from facilities, rather than top-down from government agencies and other entities, EREF was able to generate a more accurate picture of generation and recovery rates. They found overall waste generation to be higher than EPA estimates, with a national diversion rate of 28%, but also found that recycling had increased as well.
With seemingly every company and level of government looking to increase recycling rates this work is helpful. Progress can't be measured and opportunities for improvement can't be found without proper methodology. As the move toward "zero waste" becomes more popular, this line of thinking will be crucial.