Solid Waste Recycling
This indicator tracks how much solid waste is collected for recycling or otherwise diverted from disposal in Washington each year. It provides our recycling and diversion rate.
Since 1986, Ecology has tracked recycling of municipal solid waste (MSW), defined as solid waste from households and businesses. This includes curbside recyclables collected from households and typical commercial recyclables, such as metal and cardboard.
Since the 1990s, there have been large increases in the amount of materials recovered from non-MSW waste streams. Most notable are the growing industries in recycling asphalt, concrete, and other construction, demolition, and land-clearing debris. The recovery of these materials for uses other than landfill disposal is termed "diversion." Both recycled and diverted materials collected are included in this indicator.
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Waste recycled and diverted from disposal decreased in 2013 to 51.4 percent. The rate showed a steady increase from 1999 to 2004; leveled off from 2005 to 2008 and then climbed again in 2009. From 2009 to 2011, the amount disposed remained low while the amount recycled and diverted increased resulting in consistent increases in the diversion rate. The diversion rate peaked in 2011 at 56.7 percent. In 2012 and 2013, this trend reversed as the amount disposed increased sharply while the amounts recycled and diverted remained steady.
Many curbside recycling programs in the state have changed to commingled or single-stream (mixed) collection systems in an effort to reduce costs and increase collection of recyclables. This trend became more evident in 2003, as new sorting facilities and procedures began operation, and has continued through 2013. Some evidence suggests the convenience of not having to sort recyclables leads to more participation in recycling programs. In most cases, programs that changed to commingled collection also increased the range of materials collected.
However, because of the difficulty of cleanly sorting the materials collected in a commingled system, not all collected recyclables end up in the right place and are instead disposed. Additionally, the larger bin and mixed collection can encourage the inclusion of non-recyclable materials, termed "contamination," which will also end up disposed.
A report by Ecology in June 2010 indicates that a certain amount of the residential commingled recycling does not get recycled, termed "residuals." Between five and twenty percent of some materials may not ultimately be recycled into new products. Such materials are either materials that the market cannot recycle yet and are collected anyway, or do not make it through the sorting system to the appropriate market. See Beyond the Curb - Tracking the Commingled Residential Recyclables from Southwest Washington.
Ecology is making an effort to quantify these residuals, and determine the impact on the recycling and diversion data through annual reports from material recovery facilities and the recycling survey. Further studies may be needed including sampling at recycling facilities to more accurately determine or adjust the recycling rate based on contamination and residual rates.
This indicator has approximately a 1.5-year time lag due to the process of gathering, compiling, and analyzing data, and distributing information to stakeholders.
Why should we be concerned about how much solid waste is recycled and diverted from disposal in Washington?
The generation and disposal of solid waste imposes real costs to Washington. The amount of materials recycled and diverted from disposal indicates the amount of value captured from the solid waste stream through recovered resources. It also means we are using fewer virgin resources, with all their associated environmental impacts.
What are the benefits of recycling and diverting solid waste?
What are some actions being taken to increase solid waste recycling and diversion in Washington?
Ecology and other organizations are:
For more information, contact Gretchen Newman, 360-407-6097.
This page last updated March 2016
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