Gold in the Garbage: How Recycling Rates Could Be a Lot Higher

The national average recycling rate has been holding at just under 35 percent for the past five years, after rapid growth in the 1990s and 2000s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That state of stagnation might suggest that there are no tools left to help municipalities boost recycling, but that is far from the case. A wide variety of localities have increased their recycling rates to 50 percent or more. What are they doing that the others are not?

The answer may be about as close to a magic bullet as local-government leaders can get: “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) programs, which are operating in 7,000 communities throughout the United States with great popularity and effectiveness. PAYT brings per-volume (or per-bag or -can) pricing to non-recyclable garbage, allowing households to pay for their trash collection the way they already pay for their water or electricity: based on how much they use. Being aware of the cost of garbage leads people to throw away as little as they can and to recycle more.

Read the full story here by ILSR’s Neil Seldman, published in Governing, February 22, 2016

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Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.