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The National Waste & Recycling Association offered insight into the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on municipal waste generation

and recycling rates, noting that the latest statistics, based on 2012 data, show a continual decline in per capita waste generation and an evolving waste stream that continues the trends of less printed paper and lighter-weight packaging.

The EPA report, “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States,” was released in late February.

“EPA’s statistics show that Americans are disposing of less waste – about 4.38 pounds of waste per person per day – continuing a decline that began in 2000,” said Sharon H. Kneiss, president and CEO of Waste & Recycling, which represents private sector companies across all 50 states that collect, manage, dispose and recycle waste.

Kneiss added that while waste recovery rates dipped slightly to 260,000 tons, these statistics do not necessarily mean that Americans are recycling less.
“Part of the dip in recycling can be attributed to our evolving waste stream,” Kneiss said. “We’re generating less printed material – newspapers, office paper or magazines – as we shift to a digital world.

“Meanwhile, packaging recycling has continued to climb – more than half of all packaging is now recycled – and this packaging is getting lighter and greener as manufacturers seek to minimize their environmental footprint,” she said. “But the bottom line is that the public can help increase the recycling rate by getting the right materials in the bin in the first place. It begins with the bin.”

Some notable findings in the report include:

  • Population growth is still outpacing waste generation, and waste generation also continues to grow slower than the economy. Total national waste generation increased by only 500,000 tons, or 0.19 percent.
  • Waste disposal rose very slightly and recovery (including recycling and composting) dropped very slightly. Land disposal of waste peaked in 1990, and waste-to-energy generation peaked in 2000.
  • Packaging continues to be the largest component of trash (30 percent), followed by food waste and yard trimmings (28 percent), nondurables (20.5 percent), durables (20 percent) and miscellaneous inorganic wastes (1.5 percent).
  • Packaging recycling has steadily increased during this decade, from 38 percent in 2000 to 51.5 percent in 2012. Printed paper recycling rose even more dramatically, from 42 percent in 2000 to 71 percent in 2012.

Published in the April 2014 Edition of American Recycler News