Recycle and Reuse

Recycle and Reuse

Total Gross Waste 1960-200 (Mton)
Material 1960 1970 1980 19902000
Paper, paperboard 28 41 48 58 55
Ferrous metals 11 14 16 12 10
Other metals 1 1 2 2 3
Glass 7 14 16 12 11
Plastics 0 3 819 26
Food scraps 13 14 14 23 28
Yard trimmings 222630 34 13
Other waste 81220 31 35
Total 91125151 189 181
Population (M)181205228250282
Tonne/person 0.5 0.61 0.66 0.76 0.64

Message: reduce, reuse, recycle before disposal.

Reduction: Packaging constitutes 30% of waste stream in developed countries. Most paper products, but newspapers, end up in landfills as original packaging. Industry does NOT pay for this disposal.

Could there be a different model? In some countries such as Germany, industry pays the cost of disposal.


Aluminum is used commercially in transportation, packaging and containers, and building products. The production of aluminum from the bauxite ore (aluminum oxide) is very energy intensive so much so that the ore is shipped to areas where electricity is cheap. Because of this 30% is recycled (60% from new scrap and 40% from "old" scrap). Recycled aluminum in used in automobiles, window and doors, appliances and cans.

The cost of refining aluminum is about 300 MJ/kg while the cost from scrap is about 7 MJ/kg. Plus there are savings in transportation and disposal.

Aluminum Cost from ore versus scrap
Steps in ProductionCost (MJ/kg)
Ore extraction: mine, dry, ship
Caribbean bauxite6
SA bauxite9
Production of alumina from ore
Production of aluminum from alumina
electrode Prebaked208-272
electrode Soderberg246-277
cost of fluorine cpds & calcining4-10
Overall energy cost from ore314
Production from scrap
30-40% contaminated25

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)

Summary in 2003: Land disposal 55%; Recovery 31%; Combustion 14%.
Path of MSW in Mt
Population (M)181205228250282
19601970198019902000  2003
Total Generation 88121152205234  236
Total Materials Recovery 68153369  72
Combustion ¹ 2725143234  33
Discards to landfill ² 5688123140131  131
¹Include combustion of refuse-derived fuel form or with energy recovery of source separated matls, e.g., wood pallets and tires.
²Discards after recovery minus combustion.


On per capita basis there is progress (comparing 2000 to 1999). This takes a lot of nerve. For comparison I give 1960 number in []
On pounds per person per day unit
MSW generation dropped to 4.5 [1960: 2.7]
Recycling rate was 1.3 [1960: 0.2, improvement]
Discards after recycling declined to 2.5 [1960: 1.7]

Think about it; these are numbers for municipals and don't include industries or business required by the city to provide their own waste disposal. Each of us produce 4.5 pounds a day and sends 2.5 to landfill!

Material is one slice of recovering success.
Paper/paperboard: 45% of 87 Mt
Glass: 23% of 13 Mt
Metals: 35% of 18 Mt
Plastics: 5% of 25 Mt ⇐ much to be done.
Wood: 4% or 13 Mt.
Total Materials: 31% of 175 Mt. (incl. textiles, misc matls).

Product type is another slice in recovering success.
Durable goods: 16% of 30 Mt
Nondurable goods: 29% of 64 Mt
Containers/packaging: 39% of 75 Mt.
Food, yard trimmings, inorganic: 29% of 57 Mt
Overall: 30% recovery of 232 Mt.
Number US Landfills
Number decreases but capacity does not.

Worldwide Recycling

There is no good data worldwide. Still examples of different policies provide insight.

Policies by Country


Public support for sustainable development and concerns about diminishing landfill drove establishment of first comprehensive national framework to promote recycling. Its ingredients

  1. High recycling target for municipal waste:
  2. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) for used packaging.
  3. Deposit system for beverage containers.
  4. Requirements for commercial sector to source-separate recyclables.

EPR on used household packaging in 1991 set targets for industry: 61% for aluminum, plastic and composites; 70% for paper and cardboard, steel; 75% for glass.

Alternate to industry meeting targets is hiring third parties to collect packaging and ensuring targets met. Fees paid to DSD, a state agency. Alternate is widely copied and has spawned a "Green Dot" system. The 51% recycling rate in 1991 (at start of system) rose to 85% by 2000. Various criticisms and flaws have been corrected, including DSD being sold to a private company.

Belgium, Finland, Netherlands, Spain, Italy

They have adopted EPR regulations, pioneered by Germany, but less stringent targets and difference in implementation affected by past policies (e.g., Finland had deposit-refund system since 1960s for glass, plastic, and aluminum cans) and economic situation (e.g., Spain had drop-off instead of curbside collection).


Recycling is widely delegated to the states to handle municipal waste management. Pressure from local environmentally conscious citizens and desire to extend local landfill has lead to heterogeneous set of policies:

Heterogeneity led to widely varying recycling performance. In 1999, mid-Atlantic states recovered 40% of MSW (composting and recycling) while only 19% in Rocky Mountain areas. Curbside recycling varies from 89% in mid-Atlantic to 35% in Midwest. Generally limited landfill capacity and high landfilling costs drive scale of recycling.


Recycling is driven by strong aluminum industry that needs inexpensive raw materials (due to trade balance). Low-wage workforce encouraging collection. Brazil has world's highest aluminum recycling rate.



EPR adopted with this twist: packaging industries meets targets through purchase of tradable recycling recovery notes (PRN), each for fixed amount recycled. (Similar to US scheme on emissions.) For targeted materials this is cost-effective recycling.
  But there are three problems:
1. House paper and plastic are not targeted.
2. How do you tell a target has been met?
3. Little incentive to develop recycling technology.


Like many Asian countries, dense population limits landfill capacity. Incineration is prime means of disposal, nearly 70%. Concerns about emissions have led to more comprehensive policy:

Common patterns have emerged in the face of different policies and approaches:

Public ultimately provides the funding.

EPN policies, especially with improvements based on experience, have had the greatest impact. Increasingly many countries are moving to voluntary agreements with industries to achieve goals. Their success depends on the adequacy of the incentives.
MSW for Countries with 100% collection
< 300Czech-275
400-500Japan-412, Greece-423, Finland-463 Iceland-490
500-600Italy-525, France-540, Germany-593,
600-700Austria-611, Netherlands-619, Norway-685
700-800US-722, Iceland-735, Hong Kong-773
Missing: UK, Australia, Canada,
Almost 100% collection: Mexico-367, Hungary-493, Slovenia-467

References: best for previous and this lecture.

Recycling Rate in %
Country MSW RecyclingMSW CompostingPackaging
Show only countries with complete data, 1999-2001.

These tables take us back to the course's beginning.

Tragedy of the Commons concerned local use of common resources ⇒ "responsibility is product of definite social arrangements."

The course traced that theme through
energy generation and compensation to
      pollution and environmental effects to
            conservation and alternatives to
                  recycling and reusing resources.

Recycle and Reuse
[Sunday, 21-Oct-2018 18:41:26 EDT]
Edited by: on Thursday, 10-Nov-2005 10:22:31 EST