25 Insightful Recycling Statistics

Today, most people have heard that recycling is good for the planet and that they should participate in their local recycling programs. But participation varies dramatically, and many programs aren’t perfect. Read on for 25 insightful recycling statistics that are worth a look.

1. The Average American Generates 4.9 Pounds of Solid Waste Every Day

In the United States, the average person generates 4.9 pounds of municipal solid waste (MSW) each day. That adds up to 1,788 pounds per person every year – or 292.4 million tons total.

[Source: EPA Facts and Figures]

2. 32.1% of Solid Waste in the U.S. is Recycled or Composted Annually

Overall, the recycling rate in the United States is 32.1%. In total, about 94 million tons of MSW are recycled or composted each year.

[Source: EPA Facts and Figures]

3. Paper and Cardboard Account for About 67% of All Recycling

By far, paper and cardboard are the most frequently recycled materials in the United States, representing 66.54% of all recycling activity. Metals come in second with 12.62%, while rubber, leather, and textiles are actually third at 6.05%.

[Source: EPA Facts and Figures]

4. Recycling Activities Support 681k Jobs, Generating $37.8 Billion in Wages

The recycling and reuse industry supports around 681,000 jobs, paying out approximately $37.8 billion in wages annually. That puts the average salary for the industry at about $55,500.

[Source: EPA REI Report]

5. Recycling Activities Generate $5.5 Billion in Tax Revenue Annually

Each year, recycling activities lead to the generation of approximately $5.5 billion in tax revenue each year. This includes tax revenue at the local level and beyond.

[Source: EPA REI Report]

6. Every Ton of Paper Recycling Saves 17 Trees

Based on production averages, every ton of paper that gets recycled saves the equivalent of 17 trees.

[Source: University of Southern Indiana]

7. Nearly 75% of Aluminum That’s Ever Been Produced Is in Use Today

Thanks to recycling efforts, almost 75% of all aluminum that’s ever been produced is still being used right now. The aluminum transitions into new products, a process that can often be repeated indefinitely.

[Source: The Verge]

8. A Mere 9% of All Plastics Ever Created Have Been Recycled

While recycled aluminum is fairly common, you can’t say the same for plastics. Just 9% of the plastic that’s ever been created has been recycled. That means of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that has been made over time, 6.3 billion of it has become waste.

[Source: Science Advances]

9. Recycling Aluminum Uses Just 10% of the Energy It Would Take to Create New Aluminum

When it comes to energy use during production, aluminum recycling uses only about 10% of the energy it would take to create new aluminum. Since mining for materials to make new aluminum can be incredibly destructive, the 90% energy savings creates a significant incentive for companies to keep recycling, leading to a win-win scenario.

[Source: The Verge]

10. Americans Throw Away $700+ Million Worth of Recyclable Aluminum Cans Each Year

While aluminum recycling is incredibly efficient, not all of the aluminum cans in the United States get the chance at a new life. More than $700 million worth of recyclable aluminum cans ends up in landfills every year.

[Source: The Aluminum Association]

11. The Energy Savings from Recycling a Single Steel Can Power a TV for 1 Hour

When it comes to energy conversation, recycling steel cans is also a winner. Recycling a single steel can results in an energy savings that’s the equivalent to powering a television for one hour or a 60 watt light bulb for four hours.

[Source: Can Manufacturers Institute]

12. The Energy Savings from Recycling a Single Aluminum Can Power a TV for 3 Hours

While recycling a single steel creates an energy savings equivalent to what it takes to power a television for one hour, aluminum can recycling goes further. The energy savings from recycling an aluminum can is equivalent to what it takes to run a television for three hours.

[Source: Can Manufacturers Institute]

13. 105,800 Beverage Cans Are Recycled in the U.S. Every Minute

In the United States, 105,800 aluminum beverage cans are recycled every minute. That’s 152 million cans every day, or 55.6 billion a year.

[Source: Can Manufacturers Institute]

14. About 66% of the Recyclable Glass in the U.S. Ends Up in Landfills

While the vast majority of glass is 100% recyclable and could be reused, potentially indefinitely, only 33% of it actually gets recycled. Of the about 10 million metric tons of glass waste created annually, about 6.7 million of it ends up in landfills.

[Source: C & EN]

15. The Glass Recycling Rate in Some Other European Counties is 90%

When it comes to glass recycling rates, many European countries – including Switzerland and Germany – far exceed the 33% rate you find in the United States. In those countries, the glass recycling rate is an astounding 90% on average.

[Source: C & EN]

16. While 2.7 Million Tons of eWaste is Created Annually, Only 1 Million Tons Get Recycled

Electronic waste (eWaste) creation in the United States is significant, coming in at 2.7 million tons annually. While recycling programs are available, only 1 million tons of eWaste ends up recycled each year.

EPA Facts and Figures

17. Plastic Waste Can Take More Than 1,000 Years to Break Down

While the exact type of plastic and environmental conditions can play a role, some plastics may take more than 1,000 years to break down. Plastic bottles specifically take around 450+ years to decompose, while plastic shopping bags may take between 10 and 1,000 years.

[Source: The Balance SMB]

18. While 95% of Textiles Are Potentially Reusable or Recyclable, Only 15% Get a Second Life

About 95% of used textiles – such as clothing, bedding, curtains, and towels – are potentially reusable, donatable, or recyclable. However, only 15% of used textiles don’t end up as waste.

[Source: Massachusetts DEP, SMART & Council for Textile Recycling]

19. 50.3 Million American Households Have Curbside Recycling Service

In the United States, 50.3 million households participate in some form of curbside recycling service. That means they both have access and choose to sort their recyclables, at least, to a degree.

[Source: The Recycling Partnership]

20. Only Half of Americans Have Access to Automatic Curbside Recycling Programs

A mere half of Americans have access to an automatic curbside recycling program. The remainder either have to make special arrangements or deliver recycling to a facility if they want to recycle.

[Source: The Recycling Partnership]

21. Only 14% of Recycling Facilities Can Recycle Plastic Clamshell Packaging, and Only 4 Percent Can Recycle Plastic Bags

In many cases, items that Americans believe are recyclable largely aren’t, at least not in their area. Only 14% of recycling facilities in the United States can recycle clamshell or similar takeout packaging. A mere 11% can tackle plastic cups, and 4% have the ability to recycle plastic shopping bags.

Possibly the worst for recycling are plastic dishes, cutlery, straws, and coffee stirrers. Only 1% of the country’s recycling facilities can actually recycle those materials.

[Source: Yale Environment 360]

22. 94% of Americans Support Recycling

When it comes to how Americans feel about recycling, 94% are supportive. Additionally, 74% think it’s important and that it should be a priority.

[Source: Carton Council of America]

23. San Francisco Has the Top Waste Diversion Rate in the United States

When it comes to recycling, composting, and other landfill diversion techniques, San Francisco is a leader. Overall, about 80% of the cities waste doesn’t end up in landfills.

While San Francisco originally wanted to reach 100% by 2020, that goal was ultimately too ambitious. However, its progress is outstanding, particularly when you look at other cities.

For comparison, New York has a waste diversion rate of 21%. In Chicago, the rate is just 10%.

[Source: CNBC]

24. Germany Has the Highest Recycling Rate of Any Country, Coming in Above 66%

While San Francisco does have Germany beat, at the national level, Germany outpaces every other nation. Overall, 66.1% of Germany’s solid waste is recycled.

[Source: Eunomia]

25. Only 1% of Switzerland’s Solid Waste Makes It to Landfills

While Switzerland’s recycling rate is below Germany’s, coming in around 51%, 49% of their waste is incinerated for energy production. As a result, a mere 1% of the country’s solid waste actually ends up in landfills.

[Source: OECD iLibrary]

Bottom Line

Ultimately, the recycling statistics above are pretty enlightening. While some may align with your expectations, others likely don’t. However, together, they give people a better understanding of the recycling landscape, potentially helping everyone make smarter choices moving forward.