Session 7

Squaring the circular economy: reconciling recycling performance metrics to make the circular economy achievable and measurable
Anne Scheinberg1, Jeroen IJgosse3, Michael H. Simpson4, Nathalia Lima2, Rachel A. Savain5
1Springloop Coöperatie U.A., Netherlands,; 2Giral, Vivero de Projetos, Brazil; 3Independent Consultant, Manaus, Brazil; 4Antioch University New England; 5Recycling Co-ordinator, USA

A quick scan of methods for arriving at recycling rates in high-income countries suggests that recycling metrics differ widely, and often rest on guesses or unverified assumptions, and may be based on: 1/ definitions of recycling and related processes in the value chain; 2/ point of view of the entity asking for the information; 3/ waste system goals and recycling targets; 4/ legal requirements affecting beverage or consumer goods producers; 5/ toxicity or nuisance impacts; and 6/ resource scarcity, CO2 emissions and/or environmental footprint;
Three main methods appear to dominate: 1/ Recycling as % of waste generated: difficult to measure; requires point of generation research. Extrapolation from waste discharged by the municipal vehicle loses all activity between source and sink. 2/ Recycling as % of waste disposed, or diversion from disposal, excludes household re-use, informal and formal second hand trade and recycling, and diversion of organics to composting, burning, or animal feeding. It misses – and makes invisible – a range of environmental, economic, social, and CO2 impacts. 3/ Sales to the recycling sector as % of total sales per country: relies on assumptions about the impermeability of national borders which are not always valid. Especially sales of recycled materials often rely on export, making this a chronically unreliable approach, but one that is strongly favoured by industry trade associations and EPR systems.
This paper reports on an inventory of methods for setting and calculating recycling (and re-use) rates, models the differences between them, and proposes a set of algorithms for converting one to the other, and reports on the progress of GRIP, the Global Recycling Information Platform (, in creating conversion applications to compare performance