Alcoa Foundation & Colorado School of Mines - Research Projects

Project Home  ♦   Faculty Research Team   ♦   Student Research Team   ♦    Recycling LInks  ♦   Contact Us  

The Alcoa project team is led by Co-PI’s and CSM professors Dr. Rod Eggert, Dr. Dan Kaffine and Dr. John Tilton, with Dr. Kaffine leading the research efforts. Additional CSM people involved in the project include faculty members Dr. Ed Balistreri and Dr. Michael Heeley, and graduate students Saumya Rana, Kaylee Acuff, Hidemichi Yonezawa, Brian Batson and John Perez. Conceptually, our research efforts are divided into three main categories: A) Identifying trends in waste and recycling, B) Comparison and evaluation of alternative waste and recycling policies, and C) Determining externality implications of municipal solid waste and recycling. Below are several of the ongoing research efforts, with links to working papers and publications as available.

Greenhouse gas emissions, waste and recycling policy
 - Dr. Daniel Kaffine and Kaylee Acuff

This project examines least-cost policies for waste reduction, incorporating upstream greenhouse gas externalities associated with the production of consumption goods from various materials. In particular, we decompose the effect of deposit/refund, advance disposal fees, and recycling subsidies on upstream greenhouse gas emissions. We find that the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions are of the same order as or larger than the benefits of reducing solid waste disposal, implying larger optimal total waste reduction than previous studies. Furthermore, the least-cost intervention levels will be material-specific and vary substantially across materials. Finally, despite the reductions in emissions implied by increased recycling rates, direct recycling subsidies are more costly and generate less emissions reductions than a deposit/refund or advance disposal fee.
Working PaperPDF versionText only version

Trends in the Generation and Recovery of Municipal Solid Waste
- Dr. Rod Eggert and Brian Batson

This project provides a general overview of aluminum, ferrous metal, other nonferrous metal (e.g. lead, copper, and zinc), glass, plastic, and paper recovery trends in the United States since 1960. Initially, the six material categories are aggregated to examine the impacts of environmental policies on municipal solid waste generation levels and recovery rates. Next, each material is individually studied to illustrate any common trends amongst the materials. It is found that all categories, with the exception of aluminum, have either displayed an increasing or plateauing recovery rate after 1990. The majority of aluminum recovered is attributed to containers and packaging. One possible explanation of the fall in recovery rate is that real bottle bill redemption values have declined over time, providing less incentive for consumers to return their cans and receive the refund. Another possible contributing factor is that aluminum has become more apparent in durable goods; which compared to items such as aluminum cans, are more difficult to recover. A second finding is that other nonferrous metal recovery rates had significant increases prior to 1990. Lead (mainly from lead-acid batteries) is identified to be the driving material in this category and has had influence on the recovery rate because of lead-acid battery recycling policies, its ease of recovery, and its increasing real price from 1960 to 1980.
Working PaperPDF versionText only version 

Carbon-policy impacts on global aluminum markets 
- Dr. Edward Balisteri and Hidemichi Yonezawa

This component of the Alcoa projects involves the development of a multisector computable general equilibrium model that can assess the impacts of carbon policy on global aluminum markets. The model is based on GTAP data augmented with USGS data, which allow a separation of aluminum from the non-ferrous metals GTAP aggregate. The model includes a fully endogenous determination of prices (including carbon and energy), and can directly simulate the economy-wide impacts of national and international carbon policy. Model development includes a structural link between the low-resolution general equilibrium model, built in house, and a high-resolution partial equilibrium model of global aluminum production developed at ETH-Zurich by Professor Thomas F. Rutherford and Vishal Jaunky. The collaboration with Rutherford and Jaunky allows us to exploit the advantages of each modeling approach. The general equilibrium model determines global price impacts from policy choices, whereas the partial equilibrium model reports consistent impacts at the process level including mining, recycling, and smelting activities. To illustrate the operation of the modeling system we consider the imposition of a sub-global carbon emissions cap by OECD countries.  

The impact of waste and recycling policy on scrap prices of recycled goods
 - Dr. Daniel Kaffine

Waste and recycling policies affect both the demand and the supply of recycled goods, impacting equilibrium scrap prices. The project derives the effects of a deposit/refund, advance disposal fee, and recycling subsidies on the price of recycled goods, specifically identifying the direct and indirect channels of waste reduction for the three instruments. Importantly, changes in scrap price affect consumption and recycling decisions, which in turn affect the cost of achieving reductions in waste. Scrap price feedbacks decrease the cost of advance disposal fees, increase the cost of recycling subsidies, and have an ambiguous effect on the cost of deposit/refund. Simulation analysis finds that price feedbacks substantially affect the costs of the policies and alter the ranking of instruments.
Working PaperPDF versionText only version

Socially optimal recycling rate  
 - Kaylee Acuff

This paper examines the socially optimal recycling rate of several materials within the municipal solid waste stream. Specifically, I look at how the existence of upstream production and downstream disposal externalities will affect the optimal recycling rate of consumer goods. The results have strong policy implications, which can aid policymakers when determining state and municipal level recycling rate targets. For materials with little damage in the way of greenhouse gas emissions from production activity, such as papers, glass, and plastics, no change in recycling rates are justified by the socially optimal case. In contrast, for energy intensive production requirement materials, large increases in recycling rates are justified between the privately optimal rate to the socially optimal one. For instance, aluminum cans were reported to have a recycling rate near 50% in the U.S. in 2008; however, the socially optimal recycling rate would be closer to 80%. Steel cans experience a similar increase from an observed rate of 60% to a socially optimal rate near 75%. Given the heterogeneous benefits provided by recycling different materials, the socially optimal recycling rate will aid municipalities to set appropriate recycling rate targets. 

Drivers of recycling innovations
- Dr. Michael Heeley and Dr. Daniel Kaffine
Recycling innovation has been identified as a key factor in affecting both economic and environmental performance. Yet little is known about what drives the development of these types of innovations. Using a unique time series dataset of recycling patents we examine the antecedents of recycling innovation. In particular we investigate the role that social norms in a geographic region, such as voting norms and the emphasis on green initiatives, play in driving innovation in recycling. We are also investigating which economic actors, i.e., individuals, corporations, or government research laboratories, are responsible for developing the most valuable recycling innovations.

View additional Division of Economics and Business faculty research here.