Recycling Remains Stalled – No End in Sight

It’s been more than four years since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it would develop new regulations for coal ash disposal. The uncertainty EPA created when it said one regulatory option could involve a “hazardous waste” designation for coal ash has brought the growth in ash recycling to a screeching halt. Despite the damage being done to recycling and the environment, EPA still has no schedule for completing its new rules.

Recycling rates in the United States in 2011 remained below 2008 levels for the third consecutive year – stalled after nearly a decade of growth of a practice that conserves energy and natural resources, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and safely keeps ash out of landfills and disposal ponds. Growing numbers of ash producers, specifiers and users have restricted coal ash use in light of the regulatory uncertainty and publicity surrounding EPA’s activities.

According to the American Coal Ash Association’s most recent “Production and Use Survey,” 43.50 percent of the 130.1 million tons of coal ash produced in 2011 was beneficially used. That recycling rate is a slight uptick from 42.50 percent in 2010, but still below the 44.53 percent utilization rate charted in 2008. Ash utilization also remained down in absolute terms. At the 2008 peak, 60.6 million tons of coal ash was recycled. In 2011, utilization was 4 million tons lower at 56.6 million tons.

The plateau in recycling rates and volumes stands in stark contrast to the previous decade’s trend. Throughout the 1990s, recycling rates were in the 20s. In 2000, when the recycling rate was 29.7 percent, the EPA issued its Final Regulatory Determination that regulation of ash as a “hazardous waste” was not warranted. Over the next eight years, EPA also began actively promoting the beneficial use of coal ash and the recycling rate soared to 44.5 percent in spite of steadily increasing volumes of the amount of coal ash produced.

Now, with regulatory uncertainty prevailing and no end in sight, it’s the environment that is losing out. If the past three years had simply remained equal with 2008’s utilization, America would have seen 14.2 million tons less coal ash disposed in landfills and impoundments. 

Posted by: on: Apr 17, 2013 @ 10:22