|Decreased municipal solid waste challenges the recycling industry
After nearly a half-century of strong and steady growth, the total volume of municipal solid waste (MSW) declined from 2005 to 2010 as per capita waste generation, which had been flat for nearly two decades, also turned downward, according to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If it continues, the shift could mean big changes in store for recyclers.
Whether a blip or a sign of things to come, the swing is historic. The EPA shows a total of 88.1 million tons of MSW was generated in 1960, a rate of 2.68 lbs. per person per day. As the U.S. population swelled from 181 million in 1960 to 296 million in 2005, the total grew to 252.7 million tons of MSW annually, or 4.67 lbs. per person per day. Equally more significant is the leveling off of growth in the last decade. Waste generation grew by 34 million tons from 1990 to 2000 but only 7 million tons in the last decade.
Moreover, starting about 1990, the per capita figure leveled off. After increasing steadily to 4.57 lbs. per person per day – a 70 percent increase in 3 decades – per capita waste generation leveled off. It increased slightly during the 1990s, to 4.72 lbs. per person per day in 2000, before declining during the new millennium’s first decade to 4.43 lbs. per person per day in 2010. ...read more
Recycling rare earth metals from batteries
Toyota has sold nearly 3 million Prius hybrid-drive automobiles, each of which contains a battery pack that has more than 20 lbs. of an exotic metal called lanthanum. Lanthanum, like most of the 17 so-called rare earth elements, primarily comes from China, which has recently tightened export quotas. Special properties of rare earth metals make them highly useful for batteries, magnets and electric motors, and China wants to reserve them for its domestic industries.
Tension between rising demand for lanthanum, which has been infrequently used in products before now, and uncertain supply has created growing interest in finding ways to recycle the millions of batteries that will be coming out of hybrid and plug-in electric cars using nickel-metal hydride batteries. There are plenty of precedents.
Conventional lead-acid 12-volt automobile batteries are among the globe’s most recycled products. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that more than 90 percent of the 100 million lead-acid batteries replaced each year in the United States are recycled. ...read more