EPA Considers Including More Materials In Measure of Municipal Solid Waste Stream

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The Environmental Protection Agency may begin including construction and demolition materials when it measures the total amount of municipal solid waste generated in the United States.

The agency may also shift from using a modeling approach to using another measurement approach, the agency said in a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register Aug. 2.

The agency will accept public comment until Aug. 31 on the possible changes. EPA is seeking to make the changes to provide a more comprehensive view of the waste stream in the United States.

EPA estimates the amounts of municipal solid waste that is recycled, incinerated, and landfilled in an annual report, Municipal Solid Waste in the United States.

The current report mainly covers household waste, including packaging, food scraps, and grass clippings, but the agency may begin including construction and demolition materials, industrial materials, and automotive waste.

Ed Repa, director of environmental programs at the National Solid Wastes Management Association, said it would be helpful for EPA to include information about industrial waste going into municipal solid waste landfills, because it has been difficult to obtain the data from individual states.

Ted Michaels, president of the Energy Recovery Council, a trade organization, said including construction materials in the municipal solid waste numbers could be problematic, because doing so could cause an artificial bump in recycling rates. Rates for recycling construction and demolition materials are higher than household wastes, he said.

Problems With Current Modeling Approach

Michaels said EPA's current modeling approach has caused the agency to vastly underestimate the total amount of municipal solid waste generated.

The current report is generated by modeling using data gathered by the Department of Commerce, the U.S. Census Bureau, and trade associations.

EPA uses manufacturing data to estimate the amount of waste that will end up in a landfill, which leaves out certain types of waste that are not manufactured, such as yard clippings, Michaels said.

He proposed that EPA use data obtained from surveying landfills, check it against data submitted by facility owners to states, and then use a third-party auditor.

Repa also said EPA should survey facilities to obtain data. “These facilities all know what they have,” he said.

Changes Reflect Shift in Report Use

The municipal solid waste report was designed to give American consumers an estimate of how much waste was generated in their households and to help them understand the composition of that waste, according to Jim Thompson, president of Waste Business Journal, a research and consulting firm.

He said refining the EPA report would provide an accurate view of the market share held by waste companies, such as Waste Management. “If we're undercounting the amount of waste in the market, it makes their share look a lot bigger,” Thompson said. He said the data would aid in mergers or consolidations.

Additionally, Thompson said, there are new markets for segments of the waste stream, such as tires, yard waste, electronics, and food waste. “We should really get the numbers right if we are going to accommodate all those recycled items,” Thompson said. ”It gets more and more important to know what you have to deal with in the first place.”

Comments on methods for measuring materials for the municipal solid waste report may be submitted at www.regulations.gov under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA-2011-0178.

By Avery Fellow