Connecticut's Recycling Rate Drops Slightly

Recycling figures reported by Connecticut municipalities for fiscal year 2000 indicated that Connecticut's reported recycling/source-reduction rate dropped from 25 percent in 1999 to 24 percent in 2000. This is the first time in the eight years since Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been keeping track of the state's recycling rate based on the annual reports submitted by the municipalities that the reported recycling rate has decreased.

Factors that potentially might have affected the rate include: a growing economy in 1999/2000 which may have resulted in increased disposal tonnages; decrease in weight but not necessarily number of beverage containers reported recycled (due to glass being replaced by lighter material); low recycling collection rates for some materials such as the away-from-home-use beverage containers; and decreased recycling promotion.

As has been the case for years, the municipally reported recycling/source reduction rate is believed to underestimate the actual recycling rate.

Population: From 1991 on, yearly estimates of Connecticut's population by the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) have been used to calculate recycling and disposal per capita estimates. Those population estimates indicated a decreasing trend in the state's population between July 1991 and July 1997. However, the 2000 US census population count, which was used to calculate the per capita estimates for 2000, indicated a four percent population increase over the July 1998 estimate. These population trends affect the per capita recycling and disposal rates; per capita recycling rates dropped more than did reported recycling tonnages.

Reported tonnages recycled for 2000 as compared to 1999 slightly increased for other recyclables and paper and decreased for containers, organics, scrap metal, and textiles. However, the increased state population resulted in a decreased per capita rate for all materials.

The greatest tonnage decrease was indicated by the reported container recycling tonnages— 70,412 tons in 2000 as compared to 77,380 tons in 1999. This 9 percent tonnage decrease appears to be the primary reason for the overall decrease in Connecticut's recycling tonnages. As has been the case in the past years, decreasing container recycling tonnages are probably (at least in part) attributable to the decrease in the percentage of glass in the container waste stream. Glass is being replaced by lighter packaging material such as plastic and aluminum. A recent EPA MSW study indicated that in 1980 glass packaging was 9.2 percent of MSW generation, declining to 4.8 percent in 1999 - a reduction of 4.4 percent. Since the Connecticut recycling tonnages do not include material recycled through Connecticut's bottle bill infrastructure (such as beer bottles) - the effect of glass replacement on container recycling ton-nages is even more exaggerated.

Improving Recycling Rate

The lighter weight food and beverage containers somewhat mitigate the implication of a lower Connecticut recycling rate. However, the per capita recycling rates all decreased, and the state has not reached the mandated 40 percent recycling/source reduction goal.

DEP is implementing various strategies to help increase Connecticut's recycling rate - such as actively encouraging the establishment of programs to compost source separated organic materials (SSOM) from commercial and institutional generators; promotion of PAYT/unit-based-pricing trash disposal programs; and increased recycling enforcement. The DEP said everyone in Connecticut needs to do more to improve the overall recycling participation rate, to ensure that small businesses are recycling, to improve collection and recycling efforts for those recyclable materials which may be escaping the current recycling infra-structure, and to increase the purchase of recycled content products.

Reprinted with permission from the Northeast Recycling Council April online newsletter.