Similar to the material stream itself, the industry is undergoing a shift – one in which basic diversion rates no longer suffice to tell the story about program effectiveness.
During one session at the recent Resource Recycling Conference in Minneapolis, leaders from different realms of materials recovery discussed ways of thinking about measurement, strategies for action based on those calculations, and how that information fits into national data on recycling efforts.
The speakers included a state environmental agency program leader, a recycling consultant and a program leader in the U.S. EPA.
A shift in thinking
With stakeholders throughout the recycling chain calling for a fuller look at the environmental impact of material choices, the nature of measurement is changing, as evidenced in Oregon.
The Beaver State has been an early adopter of sustainable materials management (SMM) policies, which focus on the effects of materials across their entire life cycles. Recycling plays a role in SMM strategies but is not the only tool in the path to sustainability – it’s “insufficient by itself,” said Shannon Davis of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
To illustrate, Davis pointed to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which are often integrated into measurement under the SMM system. Even if the U.S. was able to achieve 95 percent diversion of all municipal solid waste and 75 percent of all construction and demolition debris, those efforts would reduce overall GHG emissions within the U.S. by just 6 percent, she said. Material production would still contribute 36 percent of the country’s GHG emissions.