The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia, have completed a study on the state of curbside recycling in the U.S. in 2016, with the report, "The 2016 State of Curbside Report" available at https://therecyclingpartnership.app.box.com/s/i0wvano7hi3dr3ivqxv689y4zzo583l2.
The report provides analysis of key curbside recycling attributes that influence performance, notably:
- offering recycling wherever trash pickup is available;
- using carts to collect recyclables; and
- having robust engagement from municipal recycling program managers.
Characteristics of curbside recycling programs that were evaluated include container type, collection frequency, municipal solid waste (MSW) tip fee level and material mix. A number of other variables also were evaluated.
Key findings from the report show that not just one program characteristic supports successful programs. Instead, many attributes combine to support strong recovery of bottles, cans, containers and paper. Annual pounds per household collected was the key performance indicator used to measure program performance. Of the 465 geographically dispersed cities researched, the average was 357 pounds per household per year with an average MSW tip fee of $47 per ton.
According to the report, the cities represented in the study include at least three incorporated areas in each state, other than Alaska and Hawaii; 250 of the largest cities in the country by population; and each state capital. At least 20 percent of the homes eligible for curbside service are represented in each of the 10 EPA Regions. The study represents 28 percent of U.S. homes that could potentially receive curbside recycling service, and represents a selection of communities reflecting the diversity of curbside program attributes.
“The EPA is working to support communities as they make the transition to sustainable materials management,” says Jon Johnston, EPA Region 4 chief of the materials and waste management branch. “The insights from this research and analysis will allow us to more tightly target our resource allocation to that end. We are very pleased with the depth and breadth of this report, as it shines a bright light on areas of opportunity that EPA can start supporting and the pathway to tangible progress.”
Cody Marshall, technical assistance lead for The Recycling Partnership, says, “Entering into this research, our goal was to simply evaluate common attributes of high-performing programs, but the findings go far beyond that. Recent research by the state of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality shows that there is roughly 800 to 1,000 pounds of recyclables available in the household each year. There are great opportunities to recover more of that material across the country. This curbside report points to strategies that lead to higher recovery and clearly more resources need to be made available to local governments to unlock their full potential.”
When evaluating programs with higher-than-average recovery (more than 400 pounds per household per year), common themes quickly took shape, The Recycling Partnership says:
- 100 percent of these programs had some type of public action that influenced curbside recycling;
- 96 percent were single-stream programs;
- 93 percent collected automatically, and
- 83 percent of those high-performing communities were using carts.
“This report provides key insights about what drives successful recycling programs,” says Craig Cookson, senior director, recycling and energy recovery, Plastics Division, American Chemistry Council (ACC), Washington, and executive committee member of The Recycling Partnership. “ACC is a proud member of The Recycling Partnership because informed actions at the local, regional and national levels, amplified by strategic partnerships, are producing measurable on-the-ground results.”