United States        Solid Waste And     EPA530-K-98-008
Environmental Protection  Emergency Response  January 1998
Agency           (5306W)        http://www.epa.gov/osw

Puzzled About

Recycling's Value?

Look Beyond the  Bin
  Printed on paper that contains at least 20 percent postconsumer fiber.


Full   Picture
   IT'S NO PUZZLE—recycling makes sense. The concept is simple: recy-
   cling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valu-
   able resources. Collecting used bottles, cans, and newspapers and tak-
   ing them to the curb or to a collection facility is just the first in a
chain of events that generates a host of financial, environmental, and social
returns (see below). Some of these benefits accrue locally as well as global-
ly. As this booklet explains, when all the pieces of recycling are put togeth-
er, the overwhelming conclusion is that recycling boosts the economy, con-
serves natural resources, and reduces solid waste.
  • Recycling protects and
   expands U.S. manufacturing
   jobs and increases U.S.

  • Recycling reduces the need for
   landfilling and incineration.

  • Recycling prevents pollution
   caused by the manufacturing
   of products from virgin materials.
  • Recycling saves energy.
Recycling decreases emissions
of greenhouse gases that con-
tribute to global climate change.

Recycling conserves natural
resources such as timber, water,
and minerals.
Recycling helps sustain the
environment for future
                       SEEING THE FULL PICTURE

PF         Focus
    IN SOME COMMUNITIES across the United States, recycling is a cost-
    effective way to manage municipal solid waste. The experience of
    Madison, Wisconsin (population 201,000), for example, illustrates the
    economic benefits curbside recycling can provide midsized U.S.  cities.
In 8 years, the city more than tripled its diversion of residential solid waste
while also decreasing the net annual cost of solid waste services from $158
per household to $139. A recycling rate (including composting) of 49 per-
cent reduced the number of garbage routes needed and helped hold land-
fill tipping fees in check.1
  As solid waste managers take advantage of various cost-saving methods
for collecting residential solid waste and recyclables, the business of
municipal solid waste collection will become even more cost-effective.
Successful strategies include changing collection frequency, introducing
automated collection equipment, and improving routing design. Dozens of
local governments and haulers across the country have demonstrated that
these and other strategies can have dramatic impacts on the bottom line
while improving the quality of service delivery2
  Mesa, Arizona (population 314,000), is one city that saved money by
recycling. When the city integrated curbside recycling into its solid waste
management system, it was able to reduce the number of garbage pick-ups
from twice per week to just once. To reduce costs further, the city also
upgraded its fleet of collection trucks (thus reducing labor and mainte-
nance costs), streamlined collection routes, and initiated staff productivity


and cost tracking systems. Mesa's efforts resulted in a net annual cost sav-
ings of more than $650,000.3 In a similar fashion, Loveland, Colorado
(population 44,000), enjoyed an estimated net savings of $200,000 per
year by purchasing specially designed dual-collection trucks that allow the
collection of solid waste and recyclables in the same truck.4

Advances in the collection of solid waste and recyclables are only one piece
of recycling's economic success. Recycling also has made a vital contribution
to job creation and economic development. Recycling creates  or expands busi-
nesses that collect, process, and broker recovered materials as well as compa-
nies that manufacture and distribute products made with recovered materials.
Numerous studies have documented the billions of dollars invested and the
thousands of jobs created by recycling. A 1995 recycling employment study
for the state of North Carolina, for instance, documented that recycling activi-
ties support more than 8,800 jobs in the state, most of which are in the pri-
vate sector. The study also found that recycling was a net job creator—for
every 100 jobs created by recycling only an estimated 13 were lost in solid
waste collection and disposal and virgin material extraction within the state.5
  In addition, a study of 10 northeastern states found that processing and
remanufacturing recyclable materials in the region added more than $7.2
billion to the value of the materials. According to the study, recycling
employed more than 103,000 people, 25 percent in materials processing
(i.e., sorting and intermediate processing facilities) and 75  percent in man-
ufacturing (see graph below).6 These  studies show that thousands of com-
munities are realizing benefits from recycling far beyond diverting materi-
als from landfills and incinerators.
                                 Summary of Recycling Jobs
                                 :~ *he Northeast, by Material
                                           Yard trimmings — 545
                                            Glass —8,816
                                            Nonferrous metals — 9,194
                                             astics —9,221
                                            Multimaterials — 9,375
                                            Ferrous metals— 13,080
                                            Paper— 51,352
                                         Source: Roy F. Weston, 1994.
                 BROADENING THE  FINANCIAL  FOCUS    3

Industries that use recovered materials are a vital and growing sector of
our economy. Today's recycling programs provide manufacturers with
many of the raw materials they need to operate more efficiently. Our grow-
ing supply of recyclables keeps manufacturing industries more competitive
and more sustainable.
  The increased use in recent years of "minimills" by steel producers illustrates
the importance recovered materials hold for some industries. Steel minimills
utilize a manufacturing process that requires virtually 100 percent recovered
scrap steel as the raw material.  Indeed, all steel prod-
ucts manufactured in the United States, including
bridge components, road  signs, and construction
materials, are made from some recy-
cled steel.  Steel can recycling, in con-
junction with the recycling of scrap        The materials collected
automobiles and appliances, feeds        m recyclmg programs
these mills.7
  The paper industry is anoth-
er sector of the economy that                or "waste"-
depends on recovered materials.
Currently, the supply of commercial
timber in the United  States cannot               valuable
satisfy the current and projected
r.i    i      i   f        IT                 commodities.
liber demands ot paper mills.
Consequently, the use of recovered
paper at domestic mills is growing more than
twice as fast as the use of virgin wood fiber.8 In
this decade alone, the U.S. paper industry will spend more than $10 bil-
lion on new or expanded recycled paper mills.9 The industry will need
recovered paper from both commercial and municipal recycling programs
to supply  these mills with raw materials. According to one industry expert,
recovered paper will account for 47 percent of global papermaking fiber

In 1995, the United States recovered 56 million tons of materials from the
municipal solid waste stream for recycling (including composting).11 Based
on average national price  information for May 1996 to April 1997, these
recovered materials have a total market value of approximately $3.6 bil-


       Estimated Market Value of Major
       Municipal Solid Waste Materials
                      Total Market Value in $ Millions
        Aluminum Corrugated h
          cans   boxes   meiais  papers

                      Recovered Material

       Source: Tellus Institute, 1997.
lion.12 As shown in
the graph on the right,
aluminum cans and
corrugated boxes have
the highest market
values, at $1 billion
and $940 million,
respectively. As these
numbers show, the
materials collected in
recycling programs are
not "garbage" or
"waste"—they are
valuable commodities
that represent an es-
sential component of
today's marketplace.
  As with any busi-
ness, recycling is sub-
ject to the cyclical highs and lows of free market supply and demand.
While there have been periods when prices for recyclables were relatively
low, they have been consistent with historical trends for both virgin and
recovered materials. In fact, for all markets, prices are normally unstable
during the early stages of development. Some recovered material markets,
such as plastics, are relatively young and will continue to mature and sta-
bilize with the expanded use of recovered materials in manufacturing and
increased purchases of products with recycled content.
  An innovative mechanism for buying and selling  recovered materials
that is intended to stabilize markets is the Chicago Board of Trade
Recyclables Exchange . Recycling made headlines
and moved into the league of soybeans and porkbellies with the launch of
this Internet-based system in  1995. EPA helped establish the Recyclables
Exchange in conjunction with a group of partners from around the coun-
try. This centralized marketplace is designed to bring the same level of
price stability and quality standards to recovered materials that has
occurred with other long-standing commodities traded every day on the
floor of other Chicago Board of Trade exchanges.

   IN ADDITION to providing economic benefits, recycling offers envi-
   ronmental benefits. By reducing our reliance on virgin materials, recy-
   cling reduces pollution, saves energy, mitigates global climate change,
   and reduces pressures on biodiversity. Recycling's environmental ben-
efits are found at every stage of the life cycle of a consumer product, from
the mining of the raw materials through use and final disposal.

By decreasing the need to extract and process virgin materials, recycling
helps reduce or eliminate the pollution associated with the first two stages
of a product's development: material extraction and processing. Mineral
extracting and processing often pollute air, land, and water with toxic
materials. In addition, both mining and processing operations require
energy—that is, the burning of fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas.
When burned, these fuels release pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitro-
gen oxide, and carbon monoxide, into the air.13
  When products are made using recovered rather than virgin materials,
less energy is used during manufacturing and, consequently, fewer pollu-
tants are emitted. Studies show that less energy is needed to manufacture
products from recovered materials than from virgin materials. As shown in
the graph on page 9, manufacturing products from recovered materials can
reduce the amount of energy needed by as much as 94 percent.14

  A recent analysis of several studies concluded that the environmental
impacts of recycled-content products are less than those of virgin products
when the two are compared over their entire life cycles. The analysis found
that when compared to a system based on the use of virgin materials and
landfilling or incineration, recycling and manufacturing products from
recovered materials results in a net reduction in 10 major categories of air
pollutants (aldehydes, ammonia, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydro-
carbons, methane, nitrogen oxides, other organics, particulates, and sulfur
oxides) and 8 major categories of water quality indicators and water pollu-
tants (biochemical oxygen demand, chemical oxygen demand, dissolved
solids, iron, metal ions, oil, sulfuric acid, and suspended solids). Using
recovered materials also generates less solid waste, whether measured by
weight or volume.15
        CYCLE  OF A
      t*~ COLLECTION

In reducing air and water pollution and saving energy, recycling offers an impor-
tant environmental benefit: it reduces emissions of the greenhouse gases, such
as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons, that con-
tribute to global climate change. There is a growing international consensus
that a link exists between these gases and a rise in average global temperatures.
A rise in global temperatures will increase the frequency and severity of ex-
treme weather events. In the United States alone, the number of blizzards and
heavy rainstorms has jumped 20 percent since 1900, making events that once
occurred an average of once every 100 years much more frequent.  Globally,
economic damages from weather-related disasters during the  1990s have
exceeded $200 billion—four times the total losses reported during the 1980s.16
  The manufacture and distribution of products, and the subsequent manage-
ment of the solid waste  they create,  contribute to the emission  of greenhouse
gases. Recycling (including composting) helps reduce greenhouse gas emis-
sions by (1) decreasing the energy needed to make products from virgin
materials (and thereby reducing the burning of fossil fuels), (2) reducing emis-
sions from incinerators and landfills, which are the major source of methane


      Buying recycled office paper—and recycling it—has never been
      easier. Even actions this simple can make a real difference in a
  product's environmental impacts. When compared to manufacturing
  and disposing of a ton of virgin office paper, manufacturing and recy-
  cling a ton of recycled paper reduces solid waste,  energy use, pollu-
  tion, and greenhouse gas emissions.17 Specifically, manufacturing and
  recycling a ton of recycled office paper:
  • Reduces solid waste by 49 percent.
  • Reduces total energy consumption by 43 percent.
  • Reduces net greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent of carbon
    dioxide equivalents.
  • Reduces hazardous air pollutant emissions by 90 percent and partic-
    ulate  emissions by 40 percent.
  • Reduces absorbable organic halogen emissions to water by 100 per-
    cent and suspended solids by 30 percent.

  Source: Environmental Defense Fund, 1995.


gas emissions in the
United States, and (3)
slowing the harvest of trees,
thereby maintaining the
carbon dioxide  storage
benefit provided by forests.

Extracting fewer virgin
materials not only
decreases greenhouse gas
emissions, it also prevents
the disruption of land
areas that are home to a
wide variety of  plant and
animal species.  As a result
of human activities,
including the acquisition
of virgin materials, species of plants and animals are now vanishing 100 to
1,000 times faster than would be expected in the absence of such activi-
ties.18 Such diminution of the earth's biodiversity has a substantial human
cost because wild species and natural ecosystems provide numerous bene-
fits to people. Some economists, for example, estimate that the lost phar-
maceutical value from plant species extinctions in the United States alone
is almost $12 billion.19 By reducing the land disturbance and pollution
associated with  virgin materials extraction, recycling helps stop the degra-
dation of the earth's ecosystems.

     Paper recycling has a direct impact on the protection of biodiversity
     in forests. A case in point is the decline of the longleaf pine forests
 that once covered 60 to 90 million acres in the southern United States.
 Due in large part to the harvesting of mature longleaf pine for the pro-
 duction of wood, paper, and other products, less than 5 percent of the
 original longleaf ecosystem, home to over 20 endangered species, remains
 today.20 The recycling of paper products lowers demand  for wood, con-
 sequently reducing pressure to harvest the remaining longleaf pine trees.

     cling have positive societal impacts both today and in the future.
     Job creation, pollution reduction, and energy conservation all
     serve to improve the quality of life in our communities. If we do
not recycle, the repercussions will fall on future generations. Our children
and grandchildren will inherit the legacy of virgin production and throw-
away consumption. Instead of leaving future generations a depleted natural
resource base and more waste in landfills—landfills that incur ongoing
costs for monitoring and maintenance—we can leave a stronger economy,
greater biodiversity, and less global warming by recognizing the value of
recycling and passing this knowledge on to our children.


    Given that recycling has numerous economic, environmental, and
    social benefits, is there a way to factor in all these benefits when
making decisions about solid waste management? The  province of
Alberta, Canada, recently developed a methodology that goes beyond
monetary costs and allows communities to take into account the envi-
ronmental, health, and social costs associated with solid waste man-
agement options (see below). Even though these considerations cannot
be measured in monetary terms, they represent real costs to a commu-
nity. With this  methodology, communities can use a ranking system to
estimate the nonmonetary impact of their programs on the natural
environment, human health, and society and then incorporate these
impacts into the analysis along with the monetary costs of their opera-
tions.  This approach provides decision-makers with full disclosure of
all of the benefits and costs of a particular project or service.21

The town of Brooks in Alberta, Canada, used a step-by-step methodol-
ogy to evaluate its composting program and justify an expansion to
source-separated composting.  First, the town itemized  and calculated
all the monetary costs of the project. Officials then used an environ-
mental advisory group to help identify and rank the  project's environ-
mental, health, and societal impacts.  The group used a scale of 1 to 5
("unfavorable"  to "outstanding")  to rank such considerations as air and
water quality, environmental sustainability illegal dumping potential,
and noise and  odor effects. After ranking each factor separately, the
group arrived at an average ranking for all the factors, placing more
importance on some factors than others. The project received an over-
all ranking of 4, or "very favorable."
  Using the results of the complete analysis—the project's nonmone-
tary ranking plus the total monetary cost—officials were able to
demonstrate the community benefits and long-term viability of the
expanded composting program to the town council,  interested citi-
zens, and other key stakeholders. The composting program currently
diverts 1,000 tons of yard trimmings annually from the local landfill.
The town is now planning to evaluate the full costs of its recycling
program using the same methodology.

1. Institute for Local Self-Reliance. 1997. Case study on Madison, Wisconsin. Washington, DC.

2. The Solid Waste Association of North America. 1997. Getting more for less:  Improving collec-
tion efficiency, Draft workbook. Silver Spring, MD.

3. The Solid Waste Association of North America. 1997. Getting more for less:  Cost cutting col-
lection strategies, Part 2, Changes in collection frequency case study, City of Mesa, Arizona.
Silver Spring, MD.

4. The Solid Waste Association of North America. 1997. Getting more for less:  Cost cutting col-
lection strategies, Part 4, Dual collection case study, City of Loveland, Colorado. Silver Spring, MD.

5. Shore, MJ.  1995. The impact of recycling on jobs in North Carolina. Prepared for the North
Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources, Office of Waste Reduction,
Raleigh, NC.

6. Roy F. Weston, Inc. 1994.  Value added to recyclable materials in the northeast. Prepared for
the Northeast Recycling Council, Brattleboro, VT

7. Steel  Recycling Institute. 1997. Facts about steel—North America's #1 recycled material.
Pittsburgh, PA .

8. American Forest  & Paper Association. 1997. Recovered paper statistical highlights: 1997 edition.
Washington, DC.

9. Denison, R.A., and J.F Ruston. 1996. Anti-recycling myths. Washington, DC: The
Environmental Defense Fund .

10. McNutt, J. 1997. Global  fiber balances: 1997 update. Presented at the International
Recovered Paper VIII Conference. Chicago, IE.

11. U.S. EPA. 1997. Characterization of municipal solid waste in the United States: 1996 update.
EPA530-R-97-015.  Washington, DC .

12. Tellus Institute. 1997. Estimated value of MSW materials recycled in 1995. Prepared for U.S.
EPA, Washington, DC.

13. Miller, Jr.,  G.T  1991. Environmental science: Sustaining the  earth. Third edition. Belmont,
CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

14. Tellus Institute. 1992. Energy implications of integrated solid waste management systems.
Prepared for New York State  Energy Research and Development Authority. Boston, MA.

15. Denison, R.A. 1996. Environmental life-cycle comparisons of recycling, landfilling, and
incineration: A review of recent studies. Annu. Rev. Energy Environ. 21:191-237.

16. Flavin, C.  1997. Storm damages set record. Lester R. Brown, eds. Vital signs. Washington,
DC: W W Norton  & Co. p. 70.

17. The Environmental Defense Fund.  1995. Paper task force recommendations for purchasing
and using environmentally preferable paper: Final report.  New York, NY.

18. WorldWatch Institute. 1997. State of the world 1997. Washington, DC.  pp. 95-114.

19. Ibid.

20. The Environmental Defense Fund.  1995. Paper task force recommendations.

21. Alberta Environmental Protection. 1995. A full cost analysis guide for municipal waste man-
agers. Alberta, Canada.

12     NOTES








cn [n
co 2
o S.
" 1