New study: North Carolina is Facing Serious Recycling Challenges

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Jean-Luc Duvall

Report addresses recycling programs’ problems and potential solutions statewide

Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is failing to make progress in its recycling efforts, according to a new study from Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center. State of Recycling in North Carolina highlights structural challenges, the rise of plastic, the effects of failing to recycle, and recent trends in the state’s recycling data. 

The report reflects on how reliance on East Asian export markets, which are no longer reliably taking American waste, have impacted some statewide programs. It also shows that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

“The reality is plastics are so hard to recycle and so low value that we could only consistently afford to collect and recycle it when China was willing to buy it,” said Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center’s Campaign Director Jean-Luc Duvall. “Now that we are left to deal with it ourselves, plastic is choking our recycling system as effectively as it chokes ocean life.”  

The report outlines how North Carolina’s combined composting and recycling rate is a fraction of the national average. However, while North Carolina is behind in recycling, waste reduction programs in the state have made progress. In recent years, the amount of waste generated per-person, per-day has dropped by two pounds. 

Along with assessing state data, the report presents wide-ranging reforms necessary to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or is burned every year. Policies include cutting back on the amount of unnecessary plastic waste being created, encouraging the reuse of already existing objects, and making sure that products are recycled at the end of their working life. 

“It’s entirely within our power to fix the system, but what is missing is the necessary sense of urgency,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund Zero Waste Director Alex Truelove, who co-authored the report. “Recycling, composting and waste reduction efforts will need to play an important role in the fight against microplastic pollution, climate change and other environmental challenges.”