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Recycling Material Trends in the United States

Americans only recycle 36% of any discarded materials. While this number is a massive improvement from the 6% that was recorded in 1960, the United States is still behind other developed countries. Germany is the leader when it comes to recycling municipal solid waste with a 68% recycling rate while countries like Austria, South Korea, Wales, and Switzerland are ranked among the top five. While there’s room for improvement, Americans are no longer creating more trash per capita than any other country around the world. In fact, the amount of waste being recycled in the United States has increased every year from 1960 to 2015.

Planet of recycling

In 2018, the total amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) was 292.4 million tons, which is 4.9 pounds per person per day. Of that, approximately 69 million tons were recycled (with 25 million tons being composted). When combined, that’s almost 94 million tons of MSW being recycled and composted. Another 17.7 million tons of food were managed by other methods, which included the following:

  • Animal feed.
  • Bio-based materials/biochemical processing.
  • Co-digestion/anaerobic digestion.
  • Donation.
  • Land application.
  • Sewer/wastewater treatment.

MSW generation went up from 2017 to 2018, because the EPA enhanced its food measurement methods to account for all the ways that food can be managed throughout the system.

Percentage of Waste Generated by Material

The total amount of waste generated in 2018 was much higher than it was the previous year as well as what was recorded in 1990. Of the 292.4 million tons of waste that was generated in 2018, the percentages based on material were the following:

  • Paper and Paperboard: 23.05%
  • Glass: 4.19%
  • Metals: 8.76%
  • Plastics: 12.20%
  • Yard Trimmings: 12.11%
  • Food: 21.59%
  • Wood: 6.19%
  • Rubber and Leather: 3.13%
  • Textiles: 5.83%
  • Other: 1.56%
  • Miscellaneous Inorganic Waste: 1.39%

Paper and paperboard products made up most of the materials that were counted as MSW, but it declined from 87.7 million tons in 2000 to 67.4 million tons in 2018. The use of newspapers have been declining since 2000 — a trend that’s expected to continue going forward. This is partly due to decreased page size, but it’s mostly because of the increased digitization of news. The generation of high-grade office papers has also been declining, because more reports are being transmitted electronically.

Food waste is the fourth largest category of materials, with yard trimmings being the next largest contributor. The amount of yard trimmings being generated has declined since 1990, because there has been more state legislation that discourages its disposal in landfills as well as the implementation of various source reduction measures (such as backyard composting and leaving grass trimmings on the yard).

The amount of MSW being recycled was 69 million tons. This included the following percentages based on material:

  • Paper and Paperboard: 66.54%
  • Glass: 4.43%
  • Metals: 12.62%
  • Plastics: 4.47%
  • Wood: 4.49%
  • Rubber, Leather, and Textiles: 6.05%
  • Other: 1.40%

Of the 25 million tons that were composted, this included percentages for the following materials:

  • Yard Trimmings: 52.35%
  • Food-Composting: 6.08%
  • Food-Other Management: 41.57%

If you’re looking for one of the best recycling centers in Corpus Christi, be sure to get in touch with Dawson Recycling and Disposal.