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[GreenYes] Re: No trash week

Title: [GreenYes] Re: No trash week

I also had an email exchange with Elise from  I wanted
to correct what I thought was misinformation about recycling and it
seems like maybe I persuaded her:

thanks for the info, i will update the site when i get home from work

On Oct 11, 2007 12:21 PM, Wolbert, Brad - DNR
<Brad.Wolbert@no.address > wrote:

Elise --

Here are reports from 2006 for King County (WA) and California materials
recovery facilities (MRFs) estimating residuals from the processing of
recyclables.  Note that the residuals are made up mostly of items that
were collected in recycling bins but that aren't recyclable (e.g.,
nonrecyclable plastics, food), or are spoiled (greasy paper, for
example).  In other words, the material going to landfills from these
facilities is mostly not recyclable at all. 

In King County, the overall residual rate was less than 10% and most of
the residuals were nonrecyclable materials.  The percentage of
recyclables that had to be treated as residuals due to contamination
(e.g., by glass shards) was less than 5%. _assessment.pdf

In California, for the standard recycling systems the report estimates
that even including the nonrecyclable material that is inadvertently
collected in recycling bins, single stream systems (i.e., those that
collect all recyclables together in one recycling bin) have a 14%
residual rate and multi stream (the classic system of separate bins for
paper and containers) are at 6%.  If you just consider material that is
actually recyclable and is properly placed in a recycling bin for
collection, the percentage that goes to a landfill would be much, much

I have inspected dozens of MRFs in Wisconsin and the upper Midwest.
Typical residual rates are less than 5% here, perhaps a bit more for
single stream systems due to broken glass.

There used to be stories of loads of separated newspaper being hauled to
landfills because it was cheaper than actually recycling them.  Those
days are long over.  Market demand (driven in large part by economic
growth in China) is soaking up every scrap of usable paper, plastic and
metal that gets separated from the waste stream.

Reducing consumption is great, and I keep my own footprint as small as I
can.  But recycling is also very defensible from an environmental
lifecycle point of view (i.e., saves energy and resources and reduces
adverse emissions compared to landfilling).  The true believers will
recognize the advantages of reducing over recycling, and more power to
them.  But many more people will hear the message about recyclables
ending up in landfills and just decide not to bother recycling.


From: eliselk@no.address [mailto:eliselk@no.address] On Behalf Of NoTrash
Sent: Thursday, October 11, 2007 1:40 PM
To: Wolbert, Brad - DNR
Subject: Re: recycling

You raise a good point. I've gotten used to talking to people that have
such a strong belief in recycling that when i point out how even
recycling still uses resources and the materials still end up as trash
eventually it just causes them to try to reduce consumption rather than
stop recycling. Thanks for the reminder that I'm now talking to a wider
audiance and i need to reiterate the importance of recycling as well as
of reduced consumption. I read somewhere that a sizable percentage of
recyclable plastics and papers (never mind the downcycling) don't end up
getting recycled because of facility capacity, but perhaps my source was
out dated. If you have any reliable sources with recent statistics on
recycling facility efficiency and percentages of effective recycling of
different materials, i would be very happy to read it.
Thanks for writing.

On Oct 11, 2007 7:45 AM, Wolbert, Brad - DNR
<Brad.Wolbert@no.address> wrote:

Elise -- your no trash week campaign sounds like a great idea.  However,
I am concerned with one statement you made in an email answer to Deborah
Strod, who is on a listserv I subscribe to.  You said much of what goes
into residential recycling does not actually get recycled, it goes to
the landfill.  This is simply not true.  Market prices for recovered
fiber and containers are at historic highs, and very little of what is
collected at the curbside is being directed to landfills.  Probably in
the neighborhood of 5%, most of which consists of material that was
never recyclable in the first place. 

I agree that minimizing waste and avoiding purchasing overpackaged
products is important, and I agree with your point that paper is
eventually downcycled into lower-value uses.  However, those who argue
against recycling like to give the public the impression that recycling
is a waste of time, and offhand statements knocking recycling don't
help.  I hope you'll refine your message to avoid perpetuating damaging
myths about recycling.

Brad Wolbert, P.G.
Waste & Materials Management Program
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
(() phone:      (608) 264-6286
( () fax:        (608) 267-2768
(+) e-mail:     Brad.Wolbert@

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