Nearly half of all solid waste in Arkansas in fiscal 2015 was recycled, according to a new report from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
About 45.5 percent -- or 5.7 billion pounds -- of all discarded materials wound up being recycled, the report said. That's an increase from 2014, when 39 percent -- or 4.2 billion pounds -- of waste materials were recycled.
The sheer amount of solid waste put in landfills also increased, though not by nearly as much. In the fiscal 2014 report, 6.5 billion pounds were reported being put into landfills, compared with 6.8 billion pounds in the fiscal 2015 report.
The fiscal 2015 report compiles data from community programs from July 2014 to June 2015 and from businesses during all of 2014.
The recycling rate in Arkansas, along with the pounds recycled, continues to increase even as prices on certain materials remain low and as the weight of the recyclables decreases because of advancements in production technologies.
Increases in the recycling of steel and iron -- for which prices have gone down -- accounts for most of the recycling rate increase.
Department of Environmental Quality officials believe the increase can also be attributed to more businesses reporting their recycling efforts, although many of the businesses that have always reported their recycling have shown increases, too.
The Department of Environmental Quality notes in its three-page State of Recycling in Arkansas report that cheaper prices for oil -- used in the production of plastic -- can make using nonrecycled materials in production cheaper for some companies than using recycled plastic.
Despite that, businesses and community programs reported recycling more plastic in this year's report than in 2014 by 46 percent, from about 168.3 million pounds to 245.7 million pounds.
Keep Arkansas Beautiful has celebrated the report, released Thursday.
"We never get into recycling as a commodity," said Robert Phelps, director of the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission and a member of the Arkansas Recycling Coalition board. "What we're trying to do is encourage people to utilize it as a waste reduction manager."
He said he was unaware of any new recycling initiatives in Arkansas that may have contributed to the increase in recycled materials.
In Pulaski County, the biggest change has been the introduction of the Little Rock city ordinance requiring recycling at all apartment complexes of 100 or more units.
But Betsy Spetich, recycling coordinator for the Department of Environmental Quality, said the agency doesn't really get into what's driving the numbers in the report.
Because the figures largely come from businesses that don't necessarily track where all of their recycling comes from, she said, it's difficult to attribute the increase in recycling to any one source -- including new city or solid-waste district programs.
In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 34.3 percent of all discarded materials were recycled or composted. Another 12.9 percent were combusted for energy, and the remaining 52.8 percent were trashed.
In Arkansas' fiscal 2013, the Department of Environmental Quality calculated a recycling rate of 35 percent.
Comparing those figures with those in other states is difficult, according to Spetich and fellow recycling coordinator Michelle Gillham. Not every state reporting to the EPA follows the same methodology for compiling data.
The Department of Environmental Quality tries to ensure recycling is not reported twice by different agencies, but it's not clear how other states' agencies go about that, Spetich said.
Metro on 11/16/2015