Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Recycling in Washington: How are we doing?

By Gretchen Newman, Lead Data Analyst, Waste 2 Resources

In a recent ECOconnect post, we talked about how food is the largest component of our garbage in Washington, at 17 percent (by weight) of what we throw in the trash. Wonder what makes up the rest of the trash? And how much are we recycling in Washington households and businesses?

Our new infographic, Materials Recovered and Disposed in Washington State in 2012 (shown below, click link or image for larger view), shows that we are recycling a big percentage of certain materials at our homes and businesses; however, we are still throwing a lot of recyclable items in the trash.  
Click the image for a larger view.

In 2012, Washington residents and businesses:
  • Recovered over 8 million tons of material for recycling and reuse.
  • Disposed of 4.3 million tons of material that we could have recovered for recycling or other more beneficial uses. 4.3 million tons!

Which materials are we best at recycling?

We are recycling or diverting more than half of the available metals and paper. We recycled more than 1.5 million tons of metals such as cans, bicycle frames, auto parts, and copper wire in 2012. We also recycled more than 1 million tons of paper. Even so, about 700,000 tons of metals and paper we could turn into new products are currently going to landfills.

Where do we need to improve?

At the other end of the spectrum, we recycle less than half of our discarded plastics. This is also true of consumer products, such as electronics, furniture, textiles, and tires. In 2012, almost 600,000 tons of these materials went into the trash, and we recycled only about 200,000 tons.

Although residents and businesses in Washington diverted over 50 percent of construction debris and organic materials from recycling in 2012, we can do better. We recycled about 5 million tons, but still trashed about 2.9 million tons of these materials that could have been recycled.

There is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow

Recycling and reusing discarded materials reduces greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, conserves natural resources, and provides greater economic value than disposal or incineration. We hope that this infographic shows what we are doing well and what still needs improvement in recycling practices to help us find that pot of gold.    

Want to become a better recycler?

  • Search the 1-800-Recycle database to find out where to take recyclables (even unusual ones!). You can also call 1-800-RECYCLE to find recycling locations with a live customer service agent between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday (except holidays).
  • Browse the Waste 2 Resources recycling web page to learn about electronics and mercury lights recycling, the benefits of recycling, and links to other recycling-related pages.
  • Track Washington’s progress toward reaching our waste management and reduction goals with the Beyond Waste Progress Report.

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