Implications for Recovery of Useful Materials

Almost all solid waste materials can be recycled in some way if people are willing to devote enough time and money to the recycling effort. Because time and money are always limited, distinctions must be drawn between materials that are more and less difficult to recycle. Table 10.5.1 shows the compostable, combustible, and recyclable fractions of MSW. The materials listed as recyclable are those for which large-scale markets exist if the local recycling industry is well developed. The list of recyclable materials is different in different areas.

Approximately 75% of the MSW discarded in the United States is compostable or recyclable. No solid waste district of substantial size in the United States has documented a 75% rate of MSW recovery and reuse, however. Reasons for this include the following:

Some recyclable material becomes unmarketable through contamination during use. A significant fraction of recyclable material cannot be recovered from the consumer. A portion of both recyclable and compostable material is lost during processing (sorting recyclable materials or removing nonrecyclable and noncompostable materials from the waste stream). Some compostable material does not decompose enough to be included in the finished compost product and is discarded with the process residue.


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