The State of Recycling in New Mexico

Released by: Environment New Mexico Research & Policy Center

Recycling rates in New Mexico reveal one of the most wasteful states in the nation. At 19 percent, the statewide rate falls almost 16 points below the national average 34.7 percent, based on the most recent available data. In other words, 81 percent of the waste in New Mexico goes to landfills, incinerators, or spills into the environment. Even the highest local rate, boasted by Lea County at 24 percent, falls well below national average. The table below shows how the top ten most populous counties stack up:

It’s time for New Mexico to catch up with the rest of the nation in waste reduction. In 1993, the state set a goal to achieve 50 percent diversion by 2000. Needless to say, it has failed to come close. Managing comprehensive data collection is crucial to addressing problems, so to improve, the state needs to increase funding and staff at the state level.

Recent changes in international trade have opened a new window of opportunity for recycling and economic development. For decades, cities throughout the United States sent millions of tons of scrap material to China to be recycled. This past year, China effectively stopped accepting our refuse, claiming it was too contaminated and unsellable for recycling. With nowhere to go, recyclables have been piling up in sorting facilities throughout New Mexico and many other states. This disruption has increased service costs, decreased revenue, and in some cases led recycling collectors to stop their services.

As the saying goes, change brings opportunity. Even New Mexico’s anemic recycling industry has brought economic benefits through the creation of nearly 7000 jobs. In the wake of China’s policy changes, New Mexico has an opportunity to further develop its recycling economy through expanded collection, sorting, and end-market solutions.

To improve recycling rates and reduce waste, New Mexico can build off of successful ongoing efforts already taking place across the state. The New Mexico Recycling Coalition (NMRC) has provided grants and connected local rural recycling businesses to loan programs to aid them in improving recycling rates.