Major Investments in U.S. Recycling Infrastructure Necessary

The recycling rate in the United States has been stagnating at 34 percent for several years. There is a particular pent-up demand in the reutilization of plastics, electronic scrap and construction waste. New concepts are already being tested for this. This is accompanied by an increasing demand for modern treatment and processing facilities and equipment.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, in 2013 the total quantity of municipal waste was 254 million tons in the USA. A national Waste Management Act, which regulates the disposal, treatment/exploitation and landfilling of different material flows and material fractions does not exist. The respective quotas, in terms of recycling goals, are specified by the individual U.S. Federal States or the local communities. However, many landfills have already reached their capacity limits and the total number of installations has also been greatly diminished in recent years. A market study by Frost & Sullivan confirmed that the transport volume and transport distances for the waste collection vehicles have increased enormously.

More and more major cities are concerned with “Zero Waste Programs”, because the recycling rate (including composting) is barely above the 34 percent mark since 2010. Due to the intended landfill rates of almost zero percent, recycling plays a central role. Pioneers of these initiatives are San Francisco and other Californian cities. Following Rochester/New York State, New York City now relies on so-called “Single Stream Recycling”: In April 2015, the city council announced that, compared to the base year of 2005, the amount of waste going to landfills will be reduced by 90 percent until 2030. The Single Stream Recycling is to be extended to the entire metropolis by 2020. However, in Rochester the process is already beeing tested in 4,000 households. The investment volume for disposal vehicles and containers is 600,000 US-Dollar.

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Outdated technology in action

The Single Stream Recycling concept means that all waste is collected in a combined bin and the separation of waste takes place in the local recycling yards. The waste separation behavior of the population is still clearly behind and it is not comparable with Germany and Western Europe. About half of the approximately 570 recycling plants were designed for this type of material recovery in the United States in 2014 and this number is growing significantly. Thus, there is a growing demand for an infrastructure system, from the waste collection to the sorting and recycling, which is aligned with this collection system.

Large-scale investments are due for the shift towards the Single Stream Recycling. In order to meet the partially ambitious “Zero Waste” goals, there is also an increased demand for new recycling facilities. According to the U.S. Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (, numerous treatment plants in the United States are technically outdated. There are still, for example, optical sorting systems from the 1990s in use. Especially in more rural regions, modernizations were only tackled sporadically. Last year, a high-efficient material recovery facility, 35 million USD worth, went into operation in Montgomery in Alabama.

According to market experts, efforts to modernize the recycling infrastructure and to implement a Single Stream system often fail due to financing. Therefore, many major companies (WalMart, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, Coca Cola, etc.) have launched a fund of 100 million US-Dollar in 2014. Soft loans from this fund should help to kick-start appropriate investments.

Disposable packaging must be recyclable

Photo: © Empire331 |

Photo: © Empire331 |

For the recycling programs of municipalities and cities it is very important to increase the low recovery rates for plastics. “Research and Markets” expects that the revenues for the recycling of plastic bottles are averagely growing by 3.7 percent every year in the period 2014 to 2019. In this context some Federal States have already introduced systems for the legal collection of returnable bottles. In more and more major cities, the non-reusable packaging available in trade must be recyclable. Moreover, California will let its citizen’s vote on a prohibition of disposable plastics packaging in 2016. Then Supermarkets should offer their customers appropriate paper bags from recycled materials for the price of at least ten US-Cents.

Leading companies in the soft drinks segment are increasingly relying on recyclable packaging materials. Coca-Cola had introduced a “PlantBottle” with 70 percent plastic and 30 percent sugar cane base in the market in 2009. Currently, in cooperation with environmental technology, the company is developing PET bottles, which are made of one hundred percent vegetable-based raw materials. Within five to eight years they could reach the market. However, in the food industry and especially in fast food chains, there is still a considerable degree of catching up to do in the supply of recyclable plastic packaging. Thereby, the relatively low oil price could slow down the development of the last few years. As industry experts report, it is more advantageous for manufacturers of plastic containers and bottles to purchase non-recycled raw materials in the summer of 2015. Due to that, recycling companies came under pressure.

An increasing number of companies from various sectors are setting sustainability goals. Part of the plans is a minimal landfill rate. For example, Nestlé USA has allegedly modified its 23 production sites in the country in order that no waste accumulates in landfills anymore. The consumer goods company Procter & Gamble is planning to compensate for the disposal in landfills without production waste by 2020. According to the Environment Agency EPA, 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste emerged in the United States in 2013. There is no official information for recycling. The rate of landfilling is expected to be significantly higher than in the municipal waste.

Progress starting from low level

Another very important issue is the disposal, treatment and recycling of used electrical (electronic) scrap in the United States. Standard & Poor’s predicted in 2012 that the nationwide accruing amount of waste will approximately double until 2025. After EPA information, only about 29 percent from the 3.4 million tons of discarded computers, monitors, television sets and mobile phones were recycled in 2012.

However, for some years now, progresses are made starting from a low level. For instance, the rate was still slightly below the 20 percent mark in 2010. In the course of a stricter legislation in the Federal States, providers of electronic devices are obliged to establish their own systems for the return and the disposal as well as the recycling of these. In New York, for example, both manufacturers and retailers are prohibited to store electrical (electronic) scrap in landfills. Furthermore, private consumers are legally not allowed to dispose of their electronic waste in the household waste since January 2015. However, the segment construction waste is only at the beginning of a positive development. According to a report of “Waste Business Journal”, the recycling rate was at 29.6 percent in 2013. Concerning this matter, only a few cities and municipalities have laid down guidelines.

Author: Christian Janetzke
Source: Germany Trade & Invest

Foto: © Deanpictures |