Waste Management and Recycling Practices

Every time a ton of paper is recycled, 17 trees, 79 gallons of oil, 7,000 gallons of water, 41,000 kilowatts of energy, and 3 cubic yards of landfill space are saved (Fullerton, 2007.)  Every living creature on this planet depends on raw materials extracted from the earth.  If we continue to take resources from the earth at a faster rate than they can be produced naturally, we will not survive.  It is necessary that we conserve the earth’s resources by recycling our waste so that we can provide a healthy environment for our offspring to inhabit.  Recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources.  It yields environmental, financial, and social returns in natural resource conservation, energy conservation, pollution prevention, and economic expansion and competitiveness.


Definition of Problem

As a nation, we produce an unthinkable amount of municipal trash. Our current rate of 250 million tons per year could fill a convoy of 10-ton trash trucks nearly 90,000 miles long—enough to circle the equator nearly eight times! (Glenn, 1998).  In 2010, the average American generated 4.3 pounds of municipal solid waste every day (epa.gov, 2013.)  To make matters worse, the amount of refuse generated in the United States is projected to increase by about 16% by the year 2016 (Glenn, 1998).  There are environmental concerns associated with excessive waste generation including large scale greenhouse gas emissions and poisoning of groundwater.

As our proliferation of waste continues, we all must accept responsibility for reducing the amount of garbage we throw away. Recovery for recycling (including composting and yard trimmings) is one of the most effective waste management techniques (Glenn, 1998.)  Recycling is defined as “the recovery of useful materials, such as paper, glass, plastic, and metals, from the trash to use to make new products, reducing the amount of virgin raw materials needed” (epa.gov, 2013)

Causal Analysis

Many towns and counties do not have waste management practices that encourage the recycling of materials.  Such situations create no incentive for people to recycle, which leads to excessive waste generation.  It is often the job of state and local governments to deal with our trash. Every state has at least one authority, agency, commission, or department responsible for managing the disposal of refuse generated by its citizens. Usually, local authorities handle collection and disposal, but private companies are also frequently hired to manage trash. Many communities have turned to recycling and discovered that it works!



We now recycle 30% of our municipal solid waste. This is a marked increase from the 10% recycling rate in 1990.  Incineration accounts for 9-10% of disposal.  Landfilling still handles the majority of disposal at 70%, but this continues to decline from its former lion’s share of 89% in 1989 (Glenn, 1998). It no longer makes sense to think of municipal solid waste management without considering the role of recycling. Average landfill tipping fees continue to increase nationwide (Glenn, 1998). More important, a sizeable portion of what we throw away contains valuable resources—metals, glass, paper, wood, and plastic—that can be reprocessed and used again as raw materials.

A number of agencies have recognized the value of including recycling as part of their solid waste management programs and have developed a variety of methods to do so. In fact, by 1997, approximately 51% of the U.S. population (135 million people) had access to the nation’s 8,937 curbside recycling programs. In addition, there were 12,700 drop-off centers for recyclables, and 3,484 yard trimmings composting programs. There were also 142 composting projects that handled municipal biosolids, that is, “select organics” such as separated food residuals and industrial organics (Glenn, 1998).

Studies have been conducted to evaluate which waste management practices create the highest recycling yield.  There are three main methods involved in modern recycling practices.  They are: curb side pickup, pay as you throw, and market based incentives.  Curbside pickup involves homeowners leaving their recyclables in containers along the street to be picked up by a truck and driven to a recycling plant.  Pay as you throw method requires citizens to purchase bags and pay a fee each time they throw trash away.  Market based incentives involve people dropping off recyclable materials at a local station and receiving discount coupons to local businesses.

A study conducted in Florida found that people responded more to convenience based recycling incentives than they did to pay as you throw or market based practices.  In their research article published in Waste Management and Research, Park and Berry (2013) reported that counties with curbside recycling programs had a much higher average recycled material per capita of 375.2 kg in comparison to the 180.24 kg found in counties without curbside programs (Park & Berry, 2013, p.898.)



Convenient curbside pickup of recyclables is the most effective method for encouraging people to recycle materials and reduce their waste generation.  Curbside recycling programs should be implemented in all states and counties throughout the Northeast.



Recycling can and does work.  There are numerous communities across New England and across the country that have successfully implemented recycling programs.  The focus now needs to be the communities that have yet to implement such programs.

In the Northeast recycling requires an effective plan.  To provide a solution to this problem, curbside recycling is necessary. According to studies done, national recycling data indicates that since 2000, the recycling rate has fallen from 32% in 2000 to 24.1% in 2008 (Van Harren et al., 2010). Now the general question is how can we improve municipal solid waste management? The topic of recycling can be divided into four different topics.

The first topic is evaluating the effectiveness of curbside recycling.  This can be achieved using self-reported surveys, going to door to door in households, or by coordinating with recycling centers, all of which have positive effects on increasing recycling rates (Folz, 1991). Recycling programs such as curbside pickups have been known to ‘affect the convenience of coproduction by citizens’ because citizens will be more likely to recycle when there is a minimal amount of effort required  Recent studies done in Northeastern cities reveal that ‘the ease’ and convenience of curbside recycling creates a greater possibility for residents to recycle ( Folz, 1999).

Multiple hypotheses were made to investigate how to motivate people in the Northeast to recycle. The first is that areas with curbside recycling pickup will encourage recycling and produce less municipal solid waste than areas with no curbside recycling pickup. Secondly, areas with pay-as-you throw programs will exhibit higher recycling performances than areas with no program.  Third was that areas with Recycle Bank programs will exhibit higher recycling yields than areas without a program. Lastly, areas with recycling markets programs will exhibit higher recycling performances than areas without any program. Among all recycling programs, curbside demonstrated the highest increase in recycling rates when applied. This particular topic also has the strongest predictive power in the increase of recycling amount.

The second topic of discussion is studies that explain recycling using an economic incentive provided by the government. The government would educate manufacturing companies to sell their products in recyclable packages.  This would benefit businesses in the long run by creating less waste and putting more money in their pockets. Several scholars (Chowdhury, 2009; Kinnaman and Fullerton, 1997) have shown that quantity based pricing of waste or programs that pay you for recycling for your trash. Studies show that cost-saving incentive-based hypothesis were made and supported showing that individual level incentives can influence recycling performance. According to Park and Berry (2013) from the article “Waste Management Research”, they displayed numerical data indicating that the counties with financial recycling incentives only produced slightly more recycled waste per capita than those who did not offer such incentives. In order to improve recycling participation, people must be educated and informed on this topic. When people are educated about a topic they are more likely to adjust their behaviors and habits.  People need to realize that recycling is important for the long term.

Recycling pays in a variety of ways. At the local level in some localities, recycled materials are sold, benefitting the recycling program. Additionally, the business of recycling expands U.S. manufacturing jobs and increases U.S. competitiveness. For example, a study of 10 north eastern states found that processing and remanufacturing recyclable materials in the  region employed more than 103,000 people and added more than $7.2 billion to the value of the materials (Weston, Inc., 1994). On a national level, the total market value for recyclables in 1995 was approximately $3.6 billion (Weston, Inc., 1994). Recycling reduces the amount of waste that needs to be buried in a landfill or incinerated. This reduction in volume may result in reduced disposal costs and add to the useful life expectancy of a landfill. In addition to providing economic benefits, recycling offers environmental benefits. By reducing our reliance on virgin materials, recycling reduces pollution, saves energy, mitigates global climate changes, and reduces pressures on biodiversity. Here’s how it works:

By decreasing the need to extract and process virgin materials, recycling helps reduce or eliminate the pollution associated with the first two stages of a product’s development: material extraction and processing. Further, studies show that less energy is needed to manufacture products from recovered materials than from virgin materials. Conserving natural resources, reducing pollution, and saving energy also yield a reduction in the emission of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change and impact biodiversity.


Resistant Audience

Encouraging participation to increase the amount of recovered materials is the greatest challenge to any recycling program. There are various ways to increase recovery and participation rates. Many communities have active promotional campaigns. Providing special containers for recyclables makes recycling more convenient. Some places have chosen mandatory over voluntary programs. Others rely on voluntary efforts, but use creative approaches to boost participation.

The following sections will outline the reasons why people don’t fully participate in recycling efforts, followed by examples of solutions to fix the issue.


In response to a survey of U.S. households, Nixon and Saphores determined that inconvenience is a significant barrier to recycling participation (2009).  Not enough space to store recyclables or items for reuse.  The need to sort things out before bringing it to the curb.

Municipalities need to do more to add convenience to their recycling plans.  Offer recycling containers labeled with the materials allowed, and recycling pick-up at least as often as trash pick-up.  This would lessen the amount of space residents would need to store their recyclables before pick-up, and make sortiing recyclables easier.


Lack of Knowledge

Municipal governments and private waste management companies need to increase educational programs designed to improve the public’s awareness of recycling programs. Transform peoples’ relationship to waste by emphasizing the environmental, economic, community, and personal advantages of reducing msw.  Hawking wrote:

The unconscious fear elicited when people are confronted with waste and its symbolic reflection of death is reinforced by campaigns emphasizing the hazards of waste disposal.  2006.

Education by government and non-government companies directed at the public needs to recognize that fear associated with waste and search for non-threatening methods for overcoming those negative feelings. If government and private companies were to publicize comparisons of the waste minimizing efforts between comparable communities, they could learn from each other and it would also reinforce the idea that waste minimization is a social expectation.

The technology exists to lessen the damage created by massive disposal of resources, but it will only be employed when society acknowledges the need for new attitudes and practices.


Sources Cited

California State University, Fullerton. (2007). Amazing facts about recycling.  Retrieved from:http://pp.fullerton.edu/Information/Recycle/AmazingRecyclingFacts.aspx


Chowdhury, M. (2009).  Sustainable kerbside recycling in the municipal garbage contract.  Waste Management & Research 27(4). 998-995.  Researched on Agricola.


Folz, DH. (1999).  Municipal Recycling Performance:  A public sector environmental success story. Public Administration Review 59: 222-231.  Researched on Agricola.


Folz, DH. (1991). Recycling Program Design, Management, and Participation:  A national survey of municipal experience. Public Administration Review 51: 336-345.  Researched on Agricola.


Glenn, Jim. The State of Garbage in America, Part 1. BioCycle. April 1998, pp. 32-43.

Roy F. Weston, Inc., 1994. Value Added to Recyclable Materials in the Northeast. Prepared for the Northeast Recycling Council, Brattleboro, VT.


Hawkins, G. 2006. The Ethics of Waste: How We Relate to Rubbish. Lanham, Maryland:  Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc.  Researched on Agricola.


Kinnaman, TC. and Fullerton, D. (2009). Garbage and Recycling in Communities with Crubside Recycling and Unit-Based Pricing.  Researched on Agricola.


Nixon, H. and Saphores, J. D. M. 2009.  Information and the Decision to Recycle: Results from a Survey of US Households.  Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 52(2): 257-277.  Researched on Agricola.


Park, S. & Berry, F.S. (2013). Analyzing effective municipal solid waste recycling programs: The case of county-level MSW recycling performance in Florida, USA. Waste Management Research, 31(9). 896-901. DOI: 1177/073424X13495725


Starr, J. (2014). Patterns in trash: Factors that drive municipal solid waste recycling. Submitted to the Graduate School of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). “Non-Hazardous Waste”. Retrieved from www.epa.gov/waste/basic-solid.htm.



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