Orange County, N.C. Waste Assessment – Recyclables in trash plunge

Picture of State of NC waste composition break down

Guest Blogger – Blair Pollock, Orange County Solid Waste

Every five years since 1990, Orange County has sorted at least 50 samples of its waste into 45 categories to evaluate how much of what we throw out can still be recycled. The most recent waste composition study was completed this past April and results now in show a dramatic drop in the percentage of recyclables remaining in the trash, led by a steep decline in paper.

In 2000 more than 37 percent of residential trash in Orange County was recyclable papers, cans and bottles. By 2010 that figure had dropped to 21 percent. In commercial waste almost one-third of the trash was recyclable 10 years ago; by this year it was a little more than a fifth at 21.6 percent. Even more dramatic was the drop in the recyclables tossed out by apartment dwellers. More than 42 percent of what was thrown out by these folks was cans, bottles and paper, now it's dropped to about 24 percent.

Paper represented the biggest drop. Even five years ago, newspapers, magazines, office paper, cardboard and mixed paper represented more than 21 percent of residential trash; now it's just 13 percent. Similar declines were observed in paper in commercial and multifamily trash. Obviously Orange County residents and businesses are recycling a lot more, but it's also true there is less paper to be recycled -- in the new economy magazines and newspapers are shrinking, junk mail is lessening and trash is down overall.

To meet our ambitious 61 percent waste reduction goal only through recycling, we'd have to recycle half of all the paper, cans and bottles remaining in the trash as well as 25 percent of the lumber, scrap metal and rigid plastics we still throw out. That would still get us to only 58 percent waste reduction. The rest will have to come from composting, waste reduction and other techniques. So there is a long road from here to our goal.

Some elements of that road map are laid out in the draft solid waste plan three year update now posted to the county's Web page.

Orange County's landfill is now projected to be full in early 2013, after which point waste will travel much farther than Eubanks Road for burial, so the less we bury the better and cheaper it will be. A bonus is that recycling prices are up significantly now.

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