Monday, December 29, 2014

Behind the numbers – Washington’s recycling rate

In 2013, Washington’s recycling rate fell below 50 percent, according to new data from Ecology.

That may seem like a down note to end 2014 on, but let’s keep things in perspective: Washington is still a national leader in recycling and 2013’s rate – 49 percent – is the third-highest in our state’s history.

 Still, why is the rate down? The recycling rate is a complicated beast. It’s not just the newspapers and cans you put out at your curb. It’s also wood waste, yard debris, used oil, car batteries, and so on.

Some of these items, we’re doing very well on. Recycling plastics, for instance, has been on an upward trajectory for years.

Other categories are declining for reasons having nothing to do with how much people recycle. Photographic film recycling is down, for example, and everyone who has a camera on their phone can easily understand why.

Economics comes into play as well. The recycling rate for ferrous metals was down in 2013, but this was likely driven by falling commodity prices.

Finally, if you remember your fractions, you will recall that a ratio has both a numerator and a denominator. The amount we recycle is the top number, the numerator, and that was down in 2013. The bottom number, the denominator, is the total amount we dispose of, and that was up in 2013. So if we could hold recycling steady, but throw away less, the rate would improve.

An area many of us could improve on is recycling food. Sounds gross, but we’re just talking about composting. When you compost your food scraps – either at home or in a curbside compost bin – you’ll be throwing away less. Finishing off those holiday leftovers lingering in your fridge can also help reduce food waste!

One bright spot on the way is fluorescent lights (forgive the pun). Washington is starting a new fluorescent light recycling program on January 1 that will give consumers more options to recycle both traditional fluorescent tubes and the twisty compact fluorescent lights. Fluorescent bulbs contain toxic mercury, so it’s important that they are recycled instead of thrown away.

Beginning January 1, go to to find a location near you to drop off your fluorescent lights.

Why is recycling important? 
  • Recycling saves energy – enough to power 1.3 million homes in Washington in 2013. 
  • Recycling reduces pollution - lowering our state’s carbon dioxide emissions by 3.1 million tons in 2013 and reducing 27 different types of air and water pollution.
  • Recycling conserves natural resources – the 1.3 million tons of scrap metal recycled in 2013 avoided mining and processing nearly 3 million tons of limestone, iron ore, and coal. 

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). 
  • Did you get a new TV or computer for the holidays? Make sure your old electronics are properly recycled. Go to to find a free recycling site near you. 
  • 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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