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Improving Recycling’s Economic Profile

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

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Local governments today provide curbside recycling service to more than half of the households in the United States. In communities with a strong recycling ethic and effective enforcement of curbside set out requirements, curbside recycling programs have proven less costly than solid waste services. For example, in Seattle, Washington, curbside recycling for single family residents costs less per ton than waste collection. Because disposing of solid waste costs the city more than processing recyclables, the recycling program saves the city money by diverting material from the more expensive solid waste service.

The cost of providing curbside recycling is highly dependent on the level of community participation in the program, the requirements for setting out materials, and the frequency of collection—as well as local factors such as prevailing wages. By increasing the level of participation in curbside recycling programs and enforcing set out requirements, communities can reduce both collection costs and processing costs. Doing so can make a curbside recycling program more economically-feasible.

This section presents approaches to consider related to recycling program costs. The two major cost categories in a residential recycling program are collection costs and processing costs. In addition, collection and processing costs are often controlled by contracts with private entities providing services. Careful consideration of contract provisions can have a dramatic effect on a recycling program’s economic profile. For more information, please visit:

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