New EPA Data Shows Mail Recycling Humming Along
For paper recycling trend watchers, and direct mail advocates, something happened in the latest Municipal Solid Waste Characterization data just published last month (June 2015) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. First, the actual report has been renamed "Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures 2013." Second, discarded advertising mail and catalogs now constitute just 1.6 percent of all MSW generated – down from 1.7 percent in 2012 and 2.3 percent at its peak in 2005 (before the Great Recession and 2006 postal rate hike).
Rarely, is discarded mail collected on its own for recycling – beyond post office lobbies and undeliverable mail collected by the U.S. Postal Service. This may be a direct result of single-stream paper and paperboard recycling in municipalities where office papers, newspapers, printed materials, magazines, catalogs, discarded mail, cartons, paper packaging and other mixed paper are more often than not collected in single bins (as they are in my hometown of New York City) by residential and commercial haulers.
While we may have lost some transparency into visibility of specific types of paper that are generated, recovered, converted to energy and landfilled – direct mail is no longer its own category for recovery, recycling and landfilling – we do see trends for paper and paperboard overall – and the results are encouraging.
First, a record 34.3 percent of all municipal solid waste (MSW) generated across all categories was captured for recovery in 2013. Disposal of generated waste in landfills decreased from 89 percent in 1980 to less than 53 percent in 2013 – and total MSW generated per capita stands at 4.4 pounds per person per day, about the same as it was in 1980, and down from its 2000 peak.
Not all recovered materials are recycled – some are composted and some are converted to energy. But all recovered materials are diverted from landfills.