Washington gets greener

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Washington residents are throwing away less and recycling more, according to statistics this morning from the state Department of Ecology.

Recycling grew to its highest level ever in 2011, reaching 50.7 percent. That figure is a milestone, marking the first time Washington has topped the 50 percent goal set by a 1989 state law. Comparatively, the latest available national average recycling rate was 34 percent in 2010.

“The goal of Washington state’s solid and hazardous waste plan is to prevent waste and toxics whenever we can, said Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant in a prepared statement. “We appreciate all the efforts of all of our partners, from individuals to local governments to private entities, who help keep valuable resources out of landfills.”

The amount of municipal waste recycled increased by more than 186,000 tons in 2011. That was up 4 percent from the previous year. It pencils out to 3.64 pounds per person per day collected for recycling, which is the highest ever measured in Washington, since Ecology began measuring recycling in 1986.

According to Ecology, the amount of waste tossed out by households and businesses has decreased through the recession. That continued last year as disposal dropped another 4 percent, by about 170,000 tons. Citizens threw away 3.54 pounds of waste per person per day in landfills, the lowest amount in 24 years.

Waste diverted from landfill disposal for other uses — including recycling, energy recovery and reuse — increased from 54.3 percent in 2010 to 57.2 percent in 2011. Officials largely attribute this to fewer construction and demolition-related materials in landfills.

Recycling rates increased for cardboard, newspaper, metals and electronics. Metals accounted for more than half of the increase in recycling, the data revealed. Less wood was collected in 2011 than in previous years.

Recycling in Washington continues to result in environmental gains. In 2011, recycling materials instead of sending them to landfills helped avoid emitting 3.2 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, similar to keeping 1.9 million cars off the road. Also, recycling saved 139 trillion British thermal units of energy. This is equivalent to conserving 1.1 billion gallons of gasoline – enough to power 1.2 million homes for a year (nearly half the households in Washington), according to Ecology.

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