January 30, 2004 | General

Editorial: New Methods, Significant Data

BioCycle January 2004, Vol. 45, No. 1, p. 4
THE 2003 “State of Garbage In America” report is the result of a close collaboration between BioCycle and the Earth Engineering Center (EEC) of Columbia University in New York City. Data from state solid waste and recycling staffs throughout the nation became the focus of intense analysis over the past few months. A significant outcome of the collaboration is the development of new methodology for analyzing solid waste management in the United States. In the 2003 survey (based on 2002 data), we requested all data related to solid waste generation, recycling, combustion and landfilling in actual tonnages. Previously, BioCycle asked states to provide the annual tons of MSW generated, and a percent breakdown, based on that number, of MSW recycled, composted, combusted and landfilled. States were asked to identify the waste streams included in those numbers, but actual quantities of each were not provided. The net effect was that it was difficult to discern what actually was municipal solid waste versus all solid wastes. In 2003, that situation was addressed by asking states to provide quantities of all waste streams included in the total tonnages provided. The same information was requested for recycled materials. This essentially enabled us to “tease out” the municipal solid waste data (i.e., residential, commercial/institutional streams).

Our primary goal with the revised approach was for the EEC/BioCycle team to know that when comparing each state’s figures, the same categories of materials are included for MSW recycling rates. These new methods provide the basis for the national picture. Based on our calculations, the U.S. generated 369 million tons of MSW in 2002. Per capita generation is an average of 1.31 tons/person. Per capita rates calculated for individual states range from a low of 0.68 tons in South Dakota to 1.73 tons in Kansas. Of the 369 million tons of MSW generated, 98.7 million tons were recycled and composted, 28.5 million tons were combusted in waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, and 242 million tons were landfilled. Those figures show the following national rates: MSW Recycling/Composting – 26.7 percent; MSW to WTE – 7.7 percent; MSW Landfilled – 65.6 percent. For comparison with the 2001 report, national rates were 32 percent recycled/composted, 7 percent combusted and 61 percent landfilled. (A detailed analysis of these numbers appears on pages 33 to 37.)
Not all states had all the data in the form that we requested. In fact, three states, Alabama, Alaska and Montana, were unable to provide any data for calendar year 2002. Interestingly, all of the 47 states responding had information about landfilling and WTE combustion, which makes sense given that these facilities are permitted and in most cases, need to report tonnages received to state officials. There is much less consistency when it comes to generation and recycling data. Nonetheless, BioCycle editors and our colleagues at the Earth Engineering Center believe that the methodology developed for the 2003 State of Garbage In America survey provides states with a viable format in which to collect this important information in the future. Without a doubt, assistance must be provided by materials recovery facilities, private recyclers and consumers of recycled feedstocks in the states.
The staff who were so vital in the compilation and analysis of data at the Earth Engineering Center at Columbia University – specifically Scott Kaufman, Karsten Millrath and Nickolas J. Themelis – join with BioCycle in thanking the solid waste and recycling officials who submitted the data for their states. We all are confident that this 2003 State of Garbage in America report advances the knowledge of our challenges and accomplishments. — Nora Goldstein

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