US Recycling Rate Inches Up: 34.1% in 2010

For 2010, the US recycling rate inched up to 34.1%, reports the US EPA.

That’s a slight rise from the 33.8% recycling rate in 2009, but still nothing to get excited about. The amount of garbage Americans produce is also inching down, from a high of 4.57 pounds per person a day in 1990 to 4.43 pounds today.

Still, the recycling rate is a big jump from 1980 when a mere 10% of all garbage was recycled (before the advent of recycling programs). But since then the amount of garbage has grown a whopping 60%.

In 2010, the US generated a total 250 million tons of trash and recycled 65 million tons and composted 20 million tons of it. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds out of our individual waste streams.

About 29 million tons went to incinerators which also produce some energy (12%). The rest went to landfills – 136 million tons (54.2%).

What gets recycled:

  • 72% of paper (7 million tons)
  • 58% of yard trimmings
  • 35% of metals (8 million tons)

55-65% of the total waste generated is residential and 35-45% comes from commercial and institutional sources, such as businesses, schools, and hospitals.

Recycling is not only crucial for reducing waste, it’s also a major curb against rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It takes a fraction of the energy to produce paper and metals from recycled sources compared to virgin sources, for example, which means much lower GHG emissions. 

Composting food scraps – which constitutes the majority of waste – prevents methane from leaching from landfills.

And the world’s hunger for materials is growing to the point where supplies of metals are diminishing while commodity prices are escalating, and the use of virgin paper puts enormous pressure on the world’s forests.

Recycling is a major industry in the US, responsible for millions of jobs.

Last year, California passed a law to recycle 75% of waste by 2020. California’s first recycling law, implemented 21 years ago, has created 125,000 jobs. Florida set the same 75% target in 2010, making those two states the strongest in the country in
recovering and reusing waste. Oregon recycled 50% of its waste in 2010. The US needs a national recycling plan.

Learn more about the importance of the recycling industry.

Here’s the EPA report:

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