Analysis of State Recycling Definitions: Environmental Research & Educational Foundation Report
Dec 30, 2019
The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) identified and analyzed recycling definitions used by state agencies in an effort to document the various ways recycling may be defined.
Definitions for “recycle”, “recycling”, and/or similar terms
such as recyclables were identified through a search of state codes.
Definitions were identified for 49 of 50 states. A definition was not found for
Definitions were analyzed based on various components,
What activities are considered to be part of recycling (e.g. collection, sorting, separating, processing, etc.),
What are the end product(s) of recycling (e.g. raw material, product, commodity, substitute for commercial product), the end uses considered as recycling (e.g. reuse, remanufacturing, composting, waste-to-energy),
Are any special wastes specifically included in the definition (e.g. waste oil, household hazardous), and
Whether recycling occurs to waste materials, or materials prior to becoming waste.
State definitions of recycling were found vary widely, and
based on EREF’s analysis there are at least 18 distinct ways that recycling is
defined throughout the U.S.
Activities included in recycling are stated to include:
separation or sortation (29 states),
collection (25 states),
processing (21 states), and
the sale or return to the economic stream (14 states).
States include what is described in the Report as possible
outputs of the “recycling process” in their definition. Those commonly
referenced are described in the Report as:
raw materials (28 states),
ingredients or inputs for manufacturing (10 states),
commodities (3 states), and
as products themselves (23 states).
The EREF found that while there are some differences in
wording among definitions, recycling generally describes activities within the
traditional curbside municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling system where
haulers, material recovery facilities (MRFs), reclaimers, brokers, and
processors facilitate the recovery and return of useable or saleable
materials to the marketplace. Differences in definition become more pronounced
when considering the other MSW management techniques (e.g. reuse, composting)
and materials (e.g. hazardous household waste) that may fit within the
activities listed above.
Another interesting finding concerning the definition and
measurement of recycling was whether or not recycling includes composting.
Based on EREF’s analysis, 11 states reference composting in their recycling
definitions, with 9 states including composting in the definition and 2 states
explicitly excluding it. An additional 13 states do not reference composting
directly, but the definitions could be interpreted to include composting as a
product returning to the marketplace.