Lesson 6: Waste Reduction and Recycling

Objective: To describe general recycling and reductior topics including its history and the arguments for and against it.




Reduction - reduction in generation

Reuse - no transformation
Recycle - Use of the material as a source raw material, involves physical transformation
Recovery - Proess to recover useful material from mixed waste (energy is an example)

Recyclable materials include - construction wastes, tires, aluminum cans, metals, furnishings and clothing, plastics, yard wastes, glass, animal wastes, paper products

United States

Mandated reductions:

Waste Reduction and Recovery Rate (US MSW – 1998)


Million tons


Waste Generation (before Reduction/Recovery)



Waste Reduced



Waste Recycled



Waste Composted






Total Reduced/Recovered




Economics and Recycling

Market History

    Initially, the market resisted expanding

    Market stimulated

    Market shifted

Obstacles to Recycling  

Supply and Demand

Price of recovered materials is cyclical, international commodity that responds to international market factors, demand & supply is major factor.

Ingredients for a successful recycling program:

Note: Recycling Will Cost: most programs are subsidized and could not support themselves. But, the $ benefit associated with prolonged landfill life is generally not applied to the balance sheet. Some feel that only recycling cost effective materials can be justified. If it were cost effective, industry would already be doing it.

SWANA Recommendations to Increase Reduction/Recovery


o      Encourage more extensive product stewardship by product designers, manufacturers retailers, and consumers


Expand efforts by federal, state, and provincial governments to develop markets for recycled materials and recovered energy


Provide financial incentives for investments in recycling, composting and the use of recovered materials


Include WTE and conversion technologies in renewable portfolio standards and green power programs


Encourage the recovery and use of landfill gas by reinstating federal tax credits and through renewable portfolio standards and green power programs


Support technology transfer and research efforts that have the potential to increase waste recovery rates

Major Recyclables

o      Paper U.S. reached a 50.3 percent paper recovery rate in 2003.  This shows progress in the recycling sector, as the recovery goal for 2012 was 55%.  Although the U.S. recovered 50 million tons of paper, allowing 37 percent of all paper products to be created from recycled paper, the recovery market still faces major obstacles.  Contamination issues due to single stream collection systems and increasing demand overseas are just two of the issues paper recovery is facing as

o      It has been recently reported that the recovery rates for aluminum cans has dropped to 44% in 2003 (lowest since 1980).  More than one trillion cans have been thrown in the trash since 1972

o      Plastic bottle recycling has dropped to 35.6%

o      Glass bottle recycling has dropped to 19.1%.

Page last updated July 2004 by Dr. Reinhart