White paper sheds light on 'real' recycling rates

White paper sheds light on 'real' recycling rates

“Demystifying MSW Recycling Rates” identifies the differences between local versus national recovery rates.

Bill Moore of Moore & Associates, an Atlanta-based consulting firm for the paper and paper recycling industry, and Peter Engel of Kessler Consulting Inc., a solid waste consulting firm based in Tampa, Florida, have announced the release of a white paper, “Demystifying MSW Recycling Rates,” which sheds light on “real” recovery rates of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the United States.

moore associates kessler consulting recycling rates white paperThe project team says it believes this is the first study to integrate national MSW recovery rate data and distinguish between residential sectors versus industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sectors.

“With so much emphasis on recycling and diversion in the market right now, there is a huge amount of confusion and contradiction about recycling rates,” says Moore.

Engel adds, “A common foundation is essential for meaningful discussion and comparison among national, state and local jurisdictions. This white paper provides some clarity that should help advance the dialogue.”

Some of the key findings of the Demystifying MSW Recycling Rates study are:


  • Recent research and the authors’ analysis suggests that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) MSW recovery and disposal numbers, which are widely referenced by stakeholders, may underestimate national MSW generation and overestimate recovery.
  • Comparing local government recovery rates to national statistics is rarely valid.  Furthermore, the diversity of methods that state and local governments use to calculate recovery rates makes comparison amongst jurisdictions highly susceptible to misinterpretation. 
  • The authors estimate that 61 percent of MSW is generated by the ICI sector versus 39 percent by the residential sector.  
  • Estimated materials recovery is 23 percent of MSW nationally, with organics recovery adding another 5 percent, for a total of 28 percent, less than EPA’s 34 percent recovery rate.  
  • The authors estimate that the ICI sector recovers 30 percent of its MSW through materials recycling, while residential materials recovery is estimated to be 14 percent of MSW generated. 
Engel says, “This study examines the challenge that the recycling community faces when comparing recovery data. It identifies the fundamental differences between local versus national recovery rates. In particular, our facts indicate that the majority of materials recovery occurs in the ICI sector, not the residential sector, which has important implications for understanding the challenges and opportunities to achieve aggressive recovery goals.”

The white paper concludes with recommendations for future improvement of recycling rates, and ensuring they are measured consistently across all jurisdictions.

The white paper is available by emailing either Moore at MARecycle@aol.com or Engel at general@kesconsult.com or by visiting the Moore & Associates website at www.MARecycle.com, where the white paper can be requested via the “Contact Us” button.

Moore is president of Moore & Associates, an international consulting firm engaged in providing a range of market research and strategic services to the paper recycling industry.  Prior to his many years as a consultant, he held a series of positions in the paper and recycling industries. These included founder and vice president of Paper Recycling International (a joint venture of Stone Container) and the first director of recycling for Waste Management Inc.

Engel is a senior consultant at Kessler Consulting Inc., a solid waste consulting firm that provides innovative and practical solutions for a wide range of solid waste management issues to clients in the public and private sector. He has worked as a consultant for 28 years, blending system-thinking and strong technical knowledge to help clients achieve their goals from planning and design to implementation and optimization.