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Recycling Surveys Fail Manufacturers, Earth911 Says

Traditional surveys of recycling methods and rates around the U.S. tend to give a distorted picture to manufacturers looking to promote the recyclability of their products, according to a report by Earth911.

In Can Consumers Recycle Your Product?, the recycling information company said one of the most common methods of collecting recycling availability information is to conduct surveys with municipal solid waste offices, then extrapolate information across the entire country. But this method poses three significant problems, Earth 911 said.

First, surveys typically include only large metro areas. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are over 18,000 cities, townships and villages in the U.S. While these communities have varying levels of population, even an aggressive outreach of 500 cities would still represent less than three percent of the potential municipal recycling programs in America, Earth911 says.

Second, surveys may treat all waste management operators the same, but the department handling solid waste differs based on the state in question. For example, in Texas, curbside recycling is handled entirely at the city level and, in Florida, it is handled at the county level. This makes it impossible to standardize how the information is collected across all states, Earth911 said.

Finally, surveys often don’t recognize a substantial portion of recycling operators. For example, aluminum cans are accepted in a majority of curbside programs in the U.S., but this is by no means the only source of aluminum can recycling. In Earth911’s own database, municipal collection locations and curbside programs make up less than 60 percent of the total numbers of recyclers accepting aluminum cans.

Earth911 also noted that on average, only 70 percent of residents have access to curbside recycling programs, which often service only single-family homes with garbage collection. But traditional surveys often don’t document the relative convenience of drop-off recycling centers, making it impossible to determine if the entire population of an area is reasonably serviced by recycling programs.

And, Earth911 said, poor communication often lowers recycling rates dramatically. “Hypothetically, 100 percent of people living in a given community could have easy access to recycle Product X, but if half of the population is unaware of how or where to recycle the product, the actual recycling rate would drop to 50 percent or less,” the report said.

Municipalities often fail to adequately communicate the type of products that can be recycled, Earth 911 said. “In image 1 [pictured above], the city of Jackson, Miss. identifies what is accepted as “paper” and “plastic” without specific examples. In Denton, Texas, image 2 indicate the types of materials accepted without specific details on the materials (such as resin codes for accepted plastics).”

The organization said its own Recycling Availability Reports rectify the problems encountered by many of these surveys.

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One thought on “Recycling Surveys Fail Manufacturers, Earth911 Says

  1. What an uninformed group they are if that is the only survey info that they use. Many states require their counties to report all recycling activity, both residential and commercial, across many different commodity types so I don’t know why they aren’t including that data in their analysis.

    Also, fewer and fewer locales are using the chasing arrows number system. We stopped using it years ago. It is much easier to use terms like containers, bottles, rigid plastics, clamshells, etc in outreach to the public. Even though this is my profession, I haven’t looked at more than one or two chasing arrow symbols in the past year. Why should I when that information is coded for the plastic manufacturers and not the citizenry and even though it may tell you that it is POTENTIALLY reccylable, it doesn’t tell you if it is recyclable in the City or County that you are standing in at the time you want to recycle it.

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