What are organic materials?
Organic materials include:
- Yard debris
- Food scraps from homes, businesses, and food processors
- Wood from construction and demolition
- Agricultural and land-clearing/forestry wastes
- Manures and more
These materials make up about 36 percent of all disposed wastes. Most of these materials could be converted to compost, mulch, new building products such as composite lumber, or electricity and alternative fuels.
How much organic material is recycled or diverted?
On the whole, the amount of organic materials composted, land applied, burned for energy, turned into mulch, and otherwise diverted from disposal has increased steadily since 1992. Currently we are capturing more organic material for use in composting, recycling, and other types of diversion programs than we are disposing in landfills.
The amount of organic material composted, recycled, and otherwise diverted declined from 2006 to 2008, partially due to weaker demands for hog fuel (wood burned for energy). The amount of organic material recycled and diverted increased in 2009 and 2010, and has been decreasing since that time. The amount of organic material disposed is estimated to be increasing at a slow rate with a few fluctuations. Note: The baseline for calculating the amount of organic material disposed in municipal solid waste landfills changed in 2008 with the completion of the 2009 Washington Statewide Waste Characterization Study. The disposal figures include organics disposed of in all types of landfills.
This indicator has approximately a 1.5-year time lag due to the time involved in gathering, compiling, analyzing and reviewing data. The availability of current waste characterization data is also a factor.
An alternate way to look at this indicator is the amount of organic materials recycled, diverted, and disposed per capita (pounds per person per year). This metric provides a perspective on the amount or organic materials we discard and recycle per person every year in Washington.
Besides what each person puts in their trash at home or at work, there are other organic wastes associated with the goods and services we all consume, such as land-clearing debris from construction sites, mill shavings, and agricultural wastes. Those discarded organic materials also affect the environment, energy, economy, and greenhouse gases, and can be tracked and shown as part of each person's impact. Those wastes factor into the amount of organic materials recycled, diverted, and disposed shown above.
The trends for the overall and per capita amount of organic materials recycled and diverted are very similar. However the trend line for the overall amount of organic materials disposed per capita shows an overall decrease. This is because the amount of organic material that each person is responsible for sending to landfills and incinerators is staying even. The population growth is responsible for the increasing trend in the greater amount of aggregate organic material that is disposed since the amount disposed per person has stayed relatively flat.
Why do we focus on how much organic material is recycled or diverted from disposal?
Throwing organic materials in landfills wastes valuable resources, takes up expensive landfill space, and leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Turning organic materials into new products such as compost, mulch, electricity, and fuels creates "green jobs" and new sources of revenue. It also creates alternatives to toxic products, such as compost instead of synthetic fertilizers, or bio-energy instead of petroleum-based sources.
What are the benefits of reusing, recycling, and diverting more organic materials?
- Builds healthy soils
- Reduces the need to use pesticides and fertilizers
- Creates energy
- Conserves water
- Saves fossil fuels
- Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
- Promotes innovation in product development
- Creates jobs
What are some actions being taken to increase reuse, recycling, and diversion of organic materials?
Ecology and other organizations are:
- Expanding composting programs statewide
- Developing new uses and markets for organic materials
- Improving technologies to process organic materials
- Promoting recovery of organics from state agencies and schools
- Providing technical assistance to compost facilities and other organics processors to promote good operating practices.