Recyclable Materials

Recycling is beneficial for the environment. It keeps materials out of landfills and helps to reduce the need for harvesting materials from the natural environment. When cities first started recycling programs the assumption was that the cost of the collection and sorting of the materials would be covered by the proceeds of the sale of those materials. In recent years this has not been the case. The value of some materials has dropped dramatically while the cost of recovering them has risen.

Reclaimed paper, a once valuable commodity that was in high demand by the newspaper industry, is one of these materials. As print newspaper circulation dropped dramatically, so did the need for reclaimed paper. Reclaimed plastics is another of these materials. As oil prices remain low, it’s less expensive for manufacturers to make products from new plastic than it is for them to use reclaimed plastic. Since much of the reclaimed materials in the United States are sent overseas, recent legislative action by some countries limiting the amount of imported reclaimed materials has also negatively affected the market making it more difficult to sell such materials.

Today’s market size is the value of a ton of mixed recyclable material for 2011, 2015 and an estimated value for 2017.

Geographic reference: United States
Year: 2011, 2015 and 2017
Market size: $180, $80, and just shy of $100 per ton of mixed recyclable material respectively.
Source: Paul Singer, “Recycling Market in a Heap of Trouble,” USA Today for the Lansing State Journal, April 21, 2017, page B1.

Spending on Water and Sewer


One of the basic infrastructural needs of any modern society, particularly one in which the density of population is great, such as in urban areas, is that which supplies clean water and carries waste away. It is one of those things that in modern industrial society we take very much for granted and almost don’t notice it, until something isn’t working.

Today’s market size is the amount spent by residents, in the United States, for water supply and sanitation in 1990 and again in 2012. This does not include the expenditures of companies or other entities for water and sewer services but is, rather, the total spent by individuals for personal use. The graph provides a year-by-year picture of these expenditures in constant 2010 dollars, in other words, in inflation-adjusted terms. A red line on the graph is there to show how the population has risen over this period and it is clearly at a rate much slower than the rate of growth in expenditures on water.

Geographic reference: United States
Year: 1990 and 2012
Market size: $27.1 and $85.9 billion respectively (in current dollars)
Source: “Table 2.5.5 Personal Consumption Expenditures by Function (A),” National Income and Product Accounts Tables, (NIPA), Bureau of Economic Analysis, August 7, 2013, available from the BEA web site here.
Original source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis
Posted on January 20, 2014

Waste Collection Services

Revenue annually

Dealing with waste is big business and one likely to continue to thrive as basic commodity prices rise, making the segregation of reusable materials from our overall waste flow more economical. Today we look at one of the industries in the larger Waste Management sector.

This industry is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as comprising “establishments primarily engaged in collecting and/or hauling waste (except nonhazardous solid waste and hazardous waste) within a local area.” This includes all firms involved in the collection of nonhazardous waste and recyclable materials from homes, businesses, construction sites, government facilities, commercial centers and the like. This industry does not include standard garbage collection firms that collect solid waste on a regular schedule nor firms that handle hazardous waste. Worth noting is the fact that in 2010 the U.S. industry being highlighted here had revenues equal to 3.7% of those reported by the larger, solid waste collection firms that run regular routes and collect the vast majority of our solid waste.

The graph shows U.S. industry revenues annually over the period 1997 to 2010. The industry grew by 69% over this period but as the pattern on the graph shows, it is not immune to economic cycles. For anyone interested in knowing more about the trends in the United States regarding how much we throw away and how much we recycle, here is an interesting blog post showing several decades worth of such trends graphically.

Geographic reference: United States
Year: 1997 and 2010
Market size: $838 million and $1.4 billion respectively
Source: “Table 7.1. Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services (NAICS 56) – Estimated Revenue for Employer Firms: 2002 Through 2010,” 2010 Service Annual Survey, produced in all non-economic census years and available online here. The graphic supplements the 2010 Service Annual Survey data with data from prior editions of the same report, also available online, at the Census Bureau’s website, here.
Original source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census
Posted on October 18, 2012

Self-Storage Services

After decades of healthy consumer spending in the United States, it should not be a surprise that the self-storage business is doing very well in the country. Of the approximately 58,500 self-storage facilities in the world, 92% are located in the United States. We have accumulated more than we can fit in our homes and as of 2010 an estimated 10% of American households rented space in a self-storage facility in order to house their things.

Primary self-storage facilities—those for whom self-storage services were their primary business—generated revenues of $22.45 billion in the United States in 2011. It is a big business and one that has in recent decades been far more immune to economic cycles than most other businesses. Today’s market size is the actual size, in number of square feet, of interior storage space available in the United States in 1984 and in 2010.

Geographic reference: United States
Year: 1984 and 2010
Market size: 289.7 million and 2.24 billion square feet respectively. In per capita terms, we’ve grown from 1.23 square feet worth of storage capacity per person in 1984 to 72.2 square feet per person in 2010.
Source: “Self Storage Association Preamble,” June 2012, a detailed fact sheet on the industry that is presented by the association on its website here.
Original source: Self Storage Association
Posted on September 28, 2012

Waste & Scrap Exports

U.S. Waste Exports 2000-2011

With the growth of globalization and the increased demand on raw materials, the prices of basic commodities such as minerals, metals, wood, and paper have been volatile and have risen sharply since 2000. This has stimulated the trade in reusable waste and scrap materials, including international trade. Today’s market size is the value of all waste and scrap material exported from the United States in 2000 and in 2011.

The graph presents these data as well as the figures for the intervening years. It also shows by a differentiation in color on each bar the approximate share of the increased export value that is attributable to rising commodity prices and the share that is the result of actual increased volume. The dark blue portion of each bar is the value of exports in 2000 multiplied by the international commodity price index for minerals, ores and metals. (Please note that the Waste & Scrap category as a whole includes more than just minerals, ores and metals—although they do dominate the trade—therefore this calculation provides only an approximation). The lighter blue portion of each bar is the value of exports in excess of the inflation-adjusted value of exports in the year 2000.

Geographic reference: United States
Year: 2000 and 2011
Market size: $5.12 and $32.74 billion respectively
Source: “U.S. International Trade Statistics,” (910 Waste and Scrap), a searchable database presented by the Census Bureau and availalble online here. The commodity price index data used to calculate the inflation adjusted value of the 2000 exports is from “Free Market Commodity Price Indices, 1960–2011,” a report from the United National Conference on Trade and Development available online here.
Original source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census and the UNCTAD
Posted on September 24, 2012

Residential Septic Systems

For a brief change of pace, septic systems!

One fifth of all residential housing units in the United States are served by individual, onsite septic systems, including 22% of all housing units less than four years old. In 2007, 50% of all housing units served by such septic systems were in rural areas, 47% in suburban areas and 3% were in central cities according to the U.S. EPA.

Geographic reference: United States
Year: 1985 and 2007
Market size: Number of housing units respectively: 24.6 million and 26.1 million
Source: Septic Systems Fact Sheet, October 2008, available online here
Original source: United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Wastewater Management