Apr 14, 2017

How much recycled material actually goes to industry?

Most waste professionals know that the amount of material collected in recycling programs differs from the amount that is eventually used in making new products - because of contamination and processing losses. Unfortunately, there are very few comprehensive accounts of how much is actually lost.
A recent study<http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jiec.12506/full> in Yale's Journal of Industrial Ecology quantifies this gap with rigor. The authors, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, examine Switzerland, a country with both a high waste generation rate and an extensive recycling system, quantifying these differences and finding not only gaps between collection and recycling rates, but also differences with official, published rates. The study also quantifies how much occurs as closed vs. open loop recycling, another calculation rarely done for municipal recycling programs.
This analysis also has interesting implications for circular economy and zero waste strategies, raising questions about the goals of recycling: (1) - is the central goal to divert waste from disposal or to displace primary (virgin) materials in production? And (2) is the primary goal of the circular economy improving resource utilization (from secondary sources, etc.) or the minimization of environmental impact?