Potential for Recovering, Processing, and Re-manufacturing Recyclables Within the State of Utah: Executive Summary 1995-2010

Section I. Executive Summary

This report, entitled “The Potential for Recovering, Processing and Remanufacturing Recyclables Within the State of Utah,” has been prepared under contract with the State of Utah, Department of Community and Economic Development, Division of Community Development, Office of Energy Services, by the Southwest Public Recycling Association (SPRA).


The purpose of this report is to provide the most current information on the status and future potential of all three aspects of recycling and composting in Utah—collection, processing, and re-manufacturing. It is hoped that the information contained in this report will assist the Utah Recycling Advisory Council, the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, and the Utah Legislature in developing policy recommendations for strengthening recycling and composting in Utah.

Scope of Work

The report’s scope of work includes an assessment of the amount of recyclable material in Utah’s waste stream, and cost estimates to recover certain percentages of this material. Additionally, there is an assessment of Utah businesses that could benefit from utilizing recovered materials as feedstock in manufacturing processes. Finally, there is a discussion of marginal costs/benefits from the replacement of primary materials (virgin) with secondary materials (recyclables).

Section II. Waste Generation and Composition

The report first focuses on estimates of waste generated in the State of Utah and the associated components of the waste stream that may have the potential for recovery. The analysis is limited to municipal solid waste (as defined by the US EPA) and some categories of “special wastes” which include construction and demolition debris, and tires. Waste streams not included in this analysis are wastes generated by the agricultural and mining sectors of the economy.

The methodology utilized for this analysis was to gather data on Utah’s population and employment by economic sector. With current and projected estimates of these two sets of data, waste generation by both the residential and commercial sector were calculated. Generation coefficients were chosen that best reflected the conditions in Utah and applied to both the number of residents and the number of employees in the state.

Components of the waste stream, which have the potential to be recovered were calculated by utilizing waste composition data generated from field trials in other parts of the country. The most applicable field trial data were applied to both the residential waste stream and each of the identified economic sectors of the commercial waste stream.

To assist in this analysis a computer model, WastePlan, was utilized allowing for a multi-variable analysis over time. If subsequent questions were raised about key assumptions, this model will allow easily performed sensitivities of baseline data generated under this report.

The following image summarizes and condenses information discussed in Section II.

I-1. Utah Generation of Potentially Recoverable Material 1995-2010 (1000s of Tons)


The potential for recovery of these materials is dependent upon three major factors:

  • whether there are technically feasible alternatives;
  • whether such alternatives are economically viable; and,
  • whether proposed alternatives are politically acceptable.

Section II also describes the methodology and provides summaries of waste generation and composition calculations. These summaries and calculations are included in the appendices of the WastePlan printouts utilized for SPRA’s analysis.

Section III. The Potential for Material Recovery

This section focuses upon recycling and composting efforts presently taking place throughout the State of Utah within the state, local, and private sectors.

The majority of recycling in Utah takes place in the five most populous counties, specifically, Salt Lake, Utah, Weber, Cache, and Washington. Utah’s solid waste statistics show that 97% of all materials recycled in the state come from three of the five counties, Salt Lake, Utah, and Weber. In addition, according to these same statistics, the three counties generate 58% of Utah’s entire solid waste.

An estimate of 2,351,000 annual tons of waste was generated in 1995, (see Section II of the report). Of that amount, 418,696 annual tons are estimated to have been recovered, or 18%. Approximately 75 percent or 372,076 annual tons can be attributed to scrap metal. The remaining 106,620 annual tons consists of other recyclable materials, such as fiber, plastic and glass.

Although a large focus of this study is upon the recovery of traditional recyclables, recovery of organic material from the waste stream is a viable waste diversion method that should be considered. Organic material, as defined in this report, is material that has the potential of going through a processing step, (i.e., composting, shredding) to create horticultural and agricultural value by returning this material to the land. Examples of organic material being considered within the context of this report is material within the waste stream that can be

  • easily identified;
  • has a proven methodology of collection that allows separation from other waste materials; and,
  • has a proven methodology for processing. The materials targeted herein include leaf and yard wastes, food waste, wastewater treatment sludge (biosolids) and manures.

This report indicates that approximately 254,000 tons/year of yard waste is generated in the state. The amount that can actually be captured and composted effectively would be lower than this. A recent estimate projected that approximately 30,000 tons of yard waste is presently being diverted to existing composting operations in Utah.

In addition, there is an estimated 43,000+ tons/year of biosolids (sewage sludge) and an additional amount of organic wastes from agriculture/husbandry operations. Such organic materials could provide the necessary feedstocks for existing or new composting facilities. The resulting compost has both fertilizer and soil amendment properties and could be sold either in bulk or as a value-added bagged product.

Section IV. The Potential in Processing Secondary Materials

This section investigates the possible investment that would be required to process the recyclables recovered from the Utah waste stream. This estimate was based on applying representative capital and operating costs of existing facilities found in the Southwestern United States to the communities found within the State of Utah.

To maximize the processing of recyclables within the State of Utah it would require an annual investment of approximately $2,940,000 in capital costs. Based on an average 20-year life of the facilities, this amounts to a total of investment of approximately $58,750,000. If operating costs are added to the facility capital cost estimate, the annual dollar amount invested would increase to $19,610,000. Operating costs can be decreased substantially from the revenues generated through the sale of recovered materials. Revenues will vary depending on market conditions as shown in Section VI. From a labor perspective, this translates into the creation of at least 300 full time equivalents (FTEs) jobs associated with recycling processing centers.

The total annual cost for developing composting within the state to divert the 297,000 annual tons of targeted organics is estimated to be close to $5,780,000 annually. Over a twenty year planning horizon, this could reflect over 100 million dollars in investment.

Additional jobs in composting would not be as significant as was found for recycling since materials processing is less, in a large part due to utilizing a natural decomposition process in a controlled environment. Based on the throughput amounts and the likely number of facilities that might need to be sited one could see as many as 25 additional new jobs dedicated to the composting of this material. However, this does not take into account the related employment associated with collection and transporting incoming material or the marketing and transporting of the finished compost.

The cost estimates are based upon the amount of material projected to be generated. However, the amount of material that is actually “captured” will undoubtedly be different. This is particularly true for the rural areas within the state where backyard composting would be more economical than yard waste collection and composting. Thus, the cost estimates generated herein should be considered high and used only as a benchmark against which to judge future analyses.

Section V. Utah Manufacturers and Secondary Material Use

This section summarizes results of a survey conducted by SPRA of Utah manufacturers that potentially could be markets for secondary materials generated from within the state.

From the SPRA survey, a few generalizations may be made. The first is many Utah manufacturers feel recycled feedstock could not meet their current specifications. Part of this can be attributed to a lack of faith that recyclables can be processed to the point that contamination would not be a problem. A concerted effort would need to be put in place to educate these industries as to what steps would take place so that quality materials could be produced. At the same time, processors of secondary material would need to be educated to the specifications so they could strive to produce an acceptable feedstock for industry.

Also, the SPRA survey shows many of the manufacturers depend on in-house expertise for problem solving and strategic planning for expansion. Thus, there may be resistance or lack of knowledge of technologies, economic costs, and benefits and applicability of utilizing secondary materials within their particular industry. Education and information exchange could play a role in the industry considering investigating possibilities on utilizing secondary material feedstocks.

Some manufacturers surveyed are utilizing secondary material from outside of Utah. These manufacturers have indicated they would go to in-state suppliers if the price was competitive. Thus, it is necessary to educate those processors and collectors of recyclables about the potential in-state market for certain materials that they can or do handle.

It appears the manufacturers utilizing fiber have the most exposure and interest in incorporating secondary material for feedstock. This also appears to be true for a portion of the plastic manufacturers in the state. Both the fiber and plastics industries of Utah are opportunities for future technical assistance and education.

Glass markets in Utah are not well established, primarily due to the long distances to recycling end-use markets in Colorado and California. A coordinated storage and transportation plan could substantially improve the economics. Local reuse of glass as aggregate seems to be promising, in that it is a well proven alternative in other parts of the country. The development of glass cullet processing and diversion of this material to aggregate reuse is one area the state could focus upon. Such an effort would require working closely with state contractors and Utah’s Department of Transportation to institute specifications to allow glass to be used as an aggregate substitute.

The use of wood wastes by wood products manufacturers seems limited. However, considering the potential for composting presented in Sections III and IV, the grinding and use of wood as a carbon source/bulking agent could have a great demand if the composting industry continues to grow.

The diversion of tires to existing manufacturing industries within the state is quite limited. However, there are newly developed technologies, such as rubberized asphalt, soil amendments, and molded consumer products using recovered rubber that is being used throughout the country. Exploring how these recovered rubber-based products could be used in Utah should be investigated.

Section VI. Marketability of Targeted Secondary Materials

As a result of some of the feedback gathered from manufacturers during the survey, this section provides information on the marketability of materials targeted in this report. The apparent obstacles to developing instate markets for secondary materials are touched upon as well as the potential for overcoming some of those problems.

Section VII. Conclusions and Recommendations

The report concludes with a summary of the information gathered under this effort and a list of recommendations for future action.

Brian Speer (bspeer@utah.gov) at (385) 499-0010 for further information on the content of this page.

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