January 30, 2024 | Business+Finance, General

Cardboard Loss In Landfills

Top: Graphic courtesy NREL

Of the estimated 110 million metric tons of paper and cardboard waste tossed out across the United States in 2019, approximately 56% was landfilled and 38% was recycled. The rest was burned. This category of waste constitutes about a quarter of municipal solid waste and includes everything from newspapers and magazines to books and napkins, from junk mail and photographs to pizza boxes and milk cartons, according to a new analysis by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The lost economic value is $4 billion, based on three-year national average prices for recovered postconsumer paper and cardboard. That is almost the same amount communities spent to landfill paper and cardboard waste. The study maps where cardboard and paper waste has been landfilled. “Through our geospatial analysis, we illustrate ‘hot spots,’ or areas with substantial opportunities to divert paper and cardboard waste from disposal facilities and hopefully stimulate investments in recovering their technical and economic value,” explains Anelia Milbrandt, a senior research analyst in NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center and a coauthor of the study. The Southeastern United States had the highest percentage of landfilled paper and cardboard waste, at about 25%. The researchers conducted a bottom-up analysis of paper and cardboard waste at 1,776 active landfills and 85 combustion facilities in the U.S. and broke down where the material winds up.

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