Study examines curbside recycling

Photo: Recycling Today archives

In recent years, concerns around material quality have grown among material recovery facility (MRF) operators, particularly as the industry has faced weaker commodity markets.

Scott Mouw, senior director of strategy and research at The Recycling Partnership, says, “We know MRFs are wrestling with bringing in cleaner material. One of the key ways to figure out that issue is to look at what’s coming in on the trucks with inbound material.”

Last year, The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia, worked on developing its “2020 State of Curbside Recycling” report, available at, which was released Feb. 13. One of the figures the nonprofit tracked in its report was how many communities are knowledgeable about their inbound contamination rates. The report found that only about one-third of communities know this figure. Among those communities, Mouw says the average inbound contamination rate is 17 percent.

“This data tells us that MRFs and communities need to do a much better job talking about inbound contamination and analyzing that data,” he says. “If you don’t know what that [number] is and don’t know the nature of the inbound contamination, you can’t do anything about it.”

Mouw says if communities and MRFs work together to determine this data, they will be better positioned to improve overall material quality.

The report’s findings are based on data from The Recycling Partnership’s 2019 State of Curbside survey, which was sent out in July 2019; information from 49 Municipal Measurement Program reports; research from the nonprofit’s West Coast Contamination Initiative; data from 28 grant programs it worked on as of November 2019; and more than 300 media stories, he says.

The nonprofit released a similar study in 2016 that looked at why curbside collection programs were strong in some communities and not in others. He says the “2020 State of Curbside Recycling” report updates some of the information from the 2016 report.

Mouw says the most recent report looks at the challenges curbside recycling programs face, how they can be overcome and what a path forward to improve curbside systems looks like.

The in-depth report offers insights into a variety of aspects of municipal recycling, including the basic dimensions of the U.S. curbside recycling system, curbside recycling program performance, the impact of changing material values, how community programs are reacting to challenges and ways to improve curbside recycling programs.

The Recycling Partnership verified the number of communities that have truly eliminated their curbside recycling programs in the report. Mouw says about 50 cities officially have eliminated curbside recycling programs since 2018. The report notes that more than 480,000 residents were affected by these changes. The full list of cities that ended curbside recycling since 2018 can be found in Appendix B of the “2020 State of Curbside Recycling” report.

The report offers numerous takeaways for the residential recycling sector, according to The Recycling Partnership, including:

  • more than 20 million tons of curbside recyclables are disposed of annually in landfills;
  • only half of Americans have automatic access to curbside recycling, and some who do have access do not participate in the programs; and
  • many communities are paying more to send materials to MRFs than to landfills, and most programs lack operating funds.

To help address these issues, the nonprofit says its report offers best practices for MRFs as well as a case study on the curbside recycling program in Sarasota, Florida.

WM delays ADS acquisition

Waste Management (WM) has delayed its merger with Advanced Disposal Services (ADS) in light of impacts related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

March 18, Houston-based WM filed a notice with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to update the merger’s projected timing. Originally scheduled to close in March, the company now anticipates closing the merger late in the second quarter, according to the filing.

The update comes shortly after WM President and CEO Jim Fish reported that the transaction would close on time during a Feb. 13 earnings call with investors.

“We anticipate that we will obtain antitrust regulatory approval by the end of March and close soon thereafter,” he said during the call.