2021 has been yet another eventful year for the U.S. waste and recycling industry. The pandemic stubbornly persisted as activity seemed to ramp up on multiple other fronts to make up for lost time in 2020.

Many of the year’s key themes in the news — M&A, policy, labor — are perennial issues. To help bring more perspective on what made those storylines unique in 2021, we’re trying something new and breaking it down by the numbers. 

Do you have thoughts on other numbers that feel especially representative of the year in waste and recycling, or ideas on what may be in store for the sector in 2022? Drop us a line at waste.dive.editors@industrydive.com.

Republic Services was among multiple companies that ramped up M&A spending in 2021.
Cole Rosengren/Waste Dive

By the numbers

$3.46 billion

Estimated potential 2021 spending on acquisitions by the solid waste industry’s five publicly traded companies in the U.S. and Canada, according to Michael E. Hoffman, a managing director at Stifel. While this won’t surpass 2020 (due to a major Waste Management transaction), it’s easily on track to beat 2019 levels.


The number of acquisitions completed by solid waste-focused companies in the U.S. so far this year, according to Waste Dive’s ongoing tracker. The true number is expected to be higher, as GFL Environmental alone has closed an estimated 40-plus transactions in the U.S. and Canada.


One version of a new top capital gains tax rate proposed by Democrats this year. While speculation of an increase in this and other tax rate categories was said to be one factor driving the M&A deal frenzy, nothing has been passed by Congress to date.

Rubicon’s recent IPO announcement was the latest in a series of ESG-related deals in 2021.
Jon Cherry via Getty Images

By the numbers

30% by 2030

The reduction in methane emissions in a pledge signed by the U.S. and around 100 countries in an effort to combat climate change as part of the COP26 conference. A recent UN report gave heightened focus to the detrimental effects of methane emissions, including those from landfills.

$1.15 billion, C$199 million, $1.7 billion (pending)

The estimated value of deals to take public the waste-related companies Archaea, Anaergia and Rubicon, respectively, based in part on investor expectations that they can tap into rising ESG interest.

Less than 2%

The proportion of reusable packaging in the portfolios of major product companies that have signed on to the 2025 New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. While a recent Ellen MacArthur Foundation report found the use of virgin plastic may have peaked among signatories, substantial work to meet the commitment remains.

Pandemic strains, rising labor power and other factors have made for an especially turbulent dynamic around the collection workforce this year.
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

By the numbers


The pay rate increase for CDL drivers that Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly announced in August. (Starting salaries jumped from $31,548 to $45,000.) The Tennessee city suspended curbside recycling in July due to labor availability, and it reinstated service in November, but it’s just one example of the industry’s workforce challenges. Public- and private-sector employers have offered increasingly higher pay rates, as well as signing or retention bonuses worth thousands of dollars, throughout the year.


The year-over-year increase in employer-reported respiratory illness cases during 2020, as recently published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2021 data is expected to be shared next fall.


The amount of overtime pay that 94 New York City Department of Sanitation collection workers and supervisors each reportedly earned during the 2020-2021 fiscal year while the agency suffered from high absenteeism.


The approximate number of Waste Management employees eligible for access to certain fully funded degree- or certificate-granting education and training programs, at the time the company launched a new benefits program this year. Thousands of those employees’ dependents will also become eligible in 2022. Other employers across the industry have also added new benefits and training opportunities.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a slate of circular economy-related bills this fall with potential national implications.
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

By the numbers


Number of extended producer responsibility for packaging bills passed in U.S. states this year out of more than a dozen proposed across the country. Maine and Oregon are the first in the country to pass such laws, and they will now spend the next few years hammering out important regulatory details, including reimbursement structures.

10 cents

The new container deposit value in Connecticut, after the state approved a revamped bottle bill this year. It’s a rare feat – many states introduce legislation each year to update their bottle bills, but few pass. Connecticut will also begin accepting more types of containers in its redemption program.


The share of California state’s curbside recycling programs that must be able to accept a certain type of product for the state to deem the product “recyclable” under a new law signed in October. The law, the first of its kind, prohibits packaging from including the “chasing arrows” or other recyclability claims unless approved by a specific state agency process.

The infrastructure package signed by President Biden included text from the RECYCLE Act and funding for the previously passed Save Our Seas 2.0 Act.
Drew Angerer via Getty Images

By the numbers

$350 million

Amount of funding for recycling-related projects in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden on Nov. 15. The funding, which includes grants for municipal recycling improvements and upgrades to local waste systems, as well as battery recycling research, is expected to become available later in 2022.

Nearly $960 million

Amount of Paycheck Protection Program funding allocated to waste and recycling companies in four specific categories since the program started. The total includes data from the final round of applications in 2021.


The EPA’s target national recycling rate by 2030. The goal was proposed during the Trump administration, but the agency released its final version of the National Recycling Strategy in November with more details on how to achieve that rate. It also promised other studies and data collection efforts to make recycling part of a broader national circular economy strategy.

Data reporting contributed by Greg Linch