NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A new research report published by an international environment consultancy compares the recycling rates of states for common containers and packing materials. The report ranks New Mexico among the bottom 10 states at number 41.

According to the “50 States of Recycling: A State-by-State Assessment of Containers and Packaging Recycling Rates” by Ball Corporation and Eunomia, only 25% of U.S. waste is actually recycled. The report highlights what material leaves the processor and is incorporated into a new product which is considered to be the “real recycling rate”. Ball Corp. states that the goal of the report is to set a baseline in each state in order to inform policy, design programs, and assess infrastructure proposals and improvements.

The report then analyzes the most recent 2018 data sourced from the EPA, states, counties, municipalities, sorting facilities, and material processors the study looked at plastic bottles and trays, glass bottles and jars, aluminum cans, steel cans, cardboard, and boxboard. The study offers a pre-COVID-19 baseline assessment of recycling rates for each of the most common consumer packaging materials (CCPM).

(courtesy Ball Corp.)

The study found the 10 states with the highest recycling rate for common containers and packaging materials (CCPM) excluding cardboard and boxboard in 2018 are: Maine (72%); Vermont (62%); Massachusetts (55%); Oregon (55%); Connecticut (52%); New York (51%); Minnesota (49%); Michigan (48%); New Jersey (46%); and Iowa (44%).

The 10 states with the lowest recycling rate for CCPM (excluding cardboard and boxboard) in 2018 are: New Mexico (13%); Texas (13%); Alabama (11%); Oklahoma (10%); Mississippi (8%); South Carolina (8%); Tennessee (7%); Alaska (6%); Louisiana (4%); and West Virginia (2%).

(courtesy: Ball/Eunomia’s “The 50 States of Recycling,” March 2021)

According to the report, in 2015 the Environment Department published data on the amounts of solid waste managed statewide by county in New Mexico. Since then, no statewide waste characterization studies have been conducted.

Takeaways from the report indicate that regardless of whether cardboard and boxboard are included, New Mexico’s CCPM recycling rates are below average for the western states. The state generates ~326 lbs. per capita per year of CCPM which is less than ~60% of other states.

The report states that New Mexico’s low recycling rate leads to a disposal rate of ~229 lbs. per capita per year which is higher than the average for western states and among the 20 worst performing states in the nation. Additionally, the average landfill fee for New Mexico is below average for the western region.

Based on the findings, the report determines that New Mexico should consider the implementation of a statewide waste characterization study in order to better understand waste composition within the state. The expansion and mandating of a data reporting system for municipalities and waste and recycling facilities on a regular basis would allow for up-to-date information.

(courtesy: Ball/Eunomia’s “The 50 States of Recycling,” March 2021)
(courtesy: Ball/Eunomia’s “The 50 States of Recycling,” March 2021)
(courtesy: Ball/Eunomia’s “The 50 States of Recycling,” March 2021)

Among the other highlights in the report:

  • Of the top 10 recycling states:
    • 7 have good data quality, availability and state reporting systems.
    • 8 have a Deposit Return System (DRS) or “bottle bill.”
    • 8 have higher landfill disposal costs on a per ton basis.
  • Low-value cardboard and boxboard makes up 73% of the recycling waste stream.
  • Recycling one ton of aluminum has 3x the GHG reduction benefit compared to recycling one ton of cardboard.
  • More effective waste management policies could reduce global CO2 emissions by up to 5% – the equivalent of grounding all commercial flights globally and taking 65% of cars off the road for a year.
  • 9 of the top 10 states with the highest recycling rates for PET bottles and aluminum cans are states with a DRS and curbside recycling infrastructure.
  • 3.5x more PET and 3x more aluminum is recycled in DRS states than in non-DRS states.
  • Only 32% of non-bottle PET (such as clamshells) collected is estimated to be recycled across the 50 U.S. states.

Ball Corp. is a producer of aluminum beverage containers, aluminum aerosol packaging, and aerospace and other technologies services. The company reports it employs 21,500 worldwide at over 100 locations.