Recycling Facts and Statistics Around the Country [INFOGRAPHIC]

Did you know that, in this country, only around 35% of households, and not even 10% of businesses recycle?

More than 2,500 landfills are presently open in the U.S., taking more of the beauty away from the country. And, while they’re usually camouflaged well enough, there’s still the negative consequences surrounding landfills you need to consider.

Under this camouflage of the landfills lay things like:

  • Leachate
  • Toxins
  • Greenhouse gases

These all are current threats to the planet. To keep the planet intact for future generations, it’s crucial for everyone, including yourself, to take proactive recycling measures, whether it’s in your community, workplace or home.

Inconsistent bin labels cause public confusion about recycling, which results in tons and tons of garbage being tossed into recycling bins. And, this garbage being thrown in the recycling bins is creating a recycling crisis in the U.S.

Without a doubt, recycling is the leading activity society can do as a whole to improve:

  • Sustainable manufacturing
  • The environment
  • The prevention of waste going into oceans
  • The economy

Recycling Facts and Statistics Throughout the Country

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started gathering and reporting data on disposition and generation of waste in the U.S. over 30 years ago. It uses this data to measure how successful materials management programs are around the country and for characterizing the national waste stream.

Here are some statistics the EPA and others found on the recycling of various materials within our country.

1. Plastic

Each year in the United States, people use around 50 billion plastic bottles, but only recycle about 23 percent, meaning more than 38 billion plastic bottles each year-end up in landfills, reports The Maui News.

And, this is only bottles. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, individuals in the U.S., in 2015, produced almost 35 million tons of plastic waste. The good news, 26 million of this plastic waste went to the landfill. The bad news is that nine million didn’t.

Worldwide, the statistics are much more overwhelming. Each year, humans produce around 300 million tons of plastic, reports the United Nations Environment Programme. Aside from piling up in landfills, where plastic can take almost 1,000 years to decompose, it can contaminate rivers, soil and food supplies.

And, the World Wildlife Fund reports eight million metric tons each year ends up in the oceans. Plus, it’s expected this number will double by 2030, and if it continues going unchecked, plastic will outweigh all fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

2. Textiles

The primary textile source in municipal solid waste (MSW) that’s discarded is clothing. However, there are other smaller sources like:

  • Footwear
  • Carpets
  • Furniture
  • Tires
  • Towels
  • Sheets

There is also data specific to footwear, clothing, pillowcases, towels and sheets.

The EPA estimated that in 2015, we generated about 16 million tons of textiles. And, this number represents 6.1 percent of the entire MSW generation for that year. Generation estimates for footwear and clothing were based partly on the Footwear Association and American Apparel sales data.

The EPA also found that substantial amounts of textiles end up entering the reuse market, but the number of reused textiles isn’t included in the generation estimate. Reused wiper rags and garments eventually enter the waste stream and become a part of MSW generation.

In 2015, the rate for all textile recycling was 15.3 percent, with 2.5 million tons being recycled. The EPA estimated, within this figure, that the textile recycling rate for footwear and clothing was 14.2 percent based on data from the American Textile Recycling Service. And, the rate for textiles like pillowcases and sheets was 16.3 percent in 2015.

Also in 2015, 3.1 million tons was the whole amount of textiles in municipal solid waste combusted. In 2015, 10.5 million tons of these textiles filled the landfills, resulting in 7.6 percent of all MSW landfilled.

3. Food Waste

When it comes to food in MSW, the EPA measures the:

  • Recycling
  • Generation
  • Combustion with energy recovery
  • Composting
  • Landfilling

They estimate the residential food waste generation by setting up a nationwide per capita estimate based on U.S. curbside sample studies and then applied to the population in the U.S. Estimates of the institutional and commercial food waste generation are based on dozens of national industry-specific studies for industries like:

  • K-12 schools
  • Grocery stores
  • Limited and full-service restaurants
  • Prisons
  • Universities and colleges
  • Residential hospitals
  • Hotels
  • Short-term stay hospitals
  • Nursing homes

The EPA estimates almost 40 million tons of food waste or more than 15 percent of the entire MSW generation was generated in 2015.

Also, in 2015, more than 2 million tons of composted food was wasted or 5.3 percent of the entire food waste, based on EPA estimates. And for food waste combusted with energy recovery, EPA estimates around 7.4 million tons, equaling about 22 percent of total MSW combusted with energy recovery with over 30 million tons of food wasting winding up in landfills which represent 22 percent of total MSW landfilled.

4. Paper

In 2017, paperboard and paper materials made up the biggest component of MSW. The EPA classified products made of paperboard or paper materials, for this analysis, as either containers and packaging or nondurable goods. Containers and packaging included products like milk cartons, corrugated boxes, sacks and bags, while nondurable goods included products like newspapers, office papers, paper cups and plates and tissue paper.

The EPA used American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) statistics for estimating post-consumer paperboard and paper generation in 2017. The entire generation of paperboard and paper in MSW in 2017 was 67 million tons, making up 25 percent of the entire MSW generation in 2017.

In 2017, around 44.2 million tons of paperboard and paper were recycled, leading to a 65.9 percent recycling rate, which ended up being among the highest compared to other MSW materials.

Nondurable paper goods, with the exception of newspapers, had a 48.3 percent recycling rate, while there was a 76.8 percent recycling rate for newspapers. Paper packaging and containers, excluding corrugated boxes, had a 15.3 percent recycling rate, while there was an over 88 percent recycling rate for corrugated boxes in 2017.

In 2017, the entire amount of paperboard and paper combusted was 4.5 million tons, which was 13.2 percent of the entire MSW combusted for that year.

There were 18.4 million tons of MSW paperboard and paper that landed in landfills in 2017, resulting in 13.1 percent of 2017 MSW landfilled.

5. Aluminum

The most sustainable drink package on almost every measure is aluminum cans. Aluminum cans have more recycled content and a higher recycling rate than competing package types. They’re stackable, lightweight and strong, which allows brands to package up and transport more drinks while using less material.

Plus, aluminum cans are much more valuable than plastic or glass and help make municipal recycling programs more viable financially while efficiently subsidizing the recycling of less valuable bin materials.

Industry Recycling Rate

An indicator of metal stewardship, the industry’s rate of recycling shows the amount of aluminum can scrap (which includes exported and imported cans) the industry recycles as a percent of United States shipments. This rate has dramatically grown since it’s first reported 15.4 percent in 1972.

The industry recycled over 56 billion cans in 2018 for a 63.6 percent industry recycling rate, which was a marginal increase from the year 2017, but over the 59.1 percent 20-year average.

Consumer Recycling Rate

The aluminum can consumer recycling rate, which measures how much domestic aluminum can scrap was recycled as a percent of available cans for recycling, climbed almost five points from 45.1 percent in 2017 to 49.8 percent in 2018.

6. Cardboard

More and more individuals in the U.S. are filling landfills with more corrugated cardboard than they are to recycling plants compared to previous years.

In the previous five years, online sales have surged and cardboard use increased by 8 percent in the same time frame, states the American Forest & Paper Association. Still, there’s been a drop in cardboard recycling.

There were 300,000 fewer tons recycled last year of corrugated containers in the U.S. than in the prior year, even with the 3.5 percent domestic consumption increase, according to the AF&PA.

It only takes 75 percent energy to recycle cardboard into a new cardboard. And, for each ton of recycled cardboard, you save 46 gallons of oil. More than 90 percent of all shipped products in the U.S. are shipped inside corrugated boxes, totaling over 400 billion sq. ft. of cardboard. Almost 80 percent of all grocers and retailers recycle their cardboard.

7. Glass

The fiberglass and container industries together buy 3.35 million tons of recycled glass each year, which is melted down and repurposed to use in new container and fiberglass product production. For every ton of recycled glass, there’s more than a ton of natural resources saved.

Energy costs drop around two to three percent for each 10 percent cullet used in manufacturing.

For every six tons of container glass recycled and used in manufacturing, a ton of carbon dioxide is decreased. In 21 states, there are 44 operating glass manufacturing plants and 63 glass processing plants (glass beneficial facilities) in 30 states. Recycled glass is cleaned further and sorted to spec at the glass processing plants, then resold to companies that manufacture glass containers to remelt into new beverage and food containers.

Individuals in the U.S. dispose of close to 10 million metric tons of glass each year. A lot of it winds up in the trash. Only around a third gets recycled. That’s not due to chemical property or some intrinsic materials that make glass hard to recycle either.

Glass is 100 percent recyclable and the roughly 33 percent glass-recycling rate of the U.S. pales in comparison with the 90 percent recycling rate in Germany, Switzerland and other European countries. And it’s not because of a lack of technical know-how.

8. Electronic Waste

E-waste encompasses thrown out equipment like:

  • Refrigerators
  • Televisions
  • Phones
  • Laptops
  • Sensors

These contain substances that could post health and environmental health risks, according to the UN University (UNU) when they’re disposed of improperly. The world throws away around 50 million tons of electronic waste each year, which is an amount greater than every commercial airline’s weight put together. When electronic waste is properly handled and recycled, the electronic waste industry provides an opportunity to create millions of good jobs, in support of SDG 8 as well as promote more responsible production and consumption, in line with SDG 12.

9. Compost

You can compost paper and food waste used for food into nutrient-rich soil and sell it to farmers. Around half of the U.S. food goes to waste (around 3,000 lbs per second.) Many businesses and schools are beginning to compost food waste on-site. Around 50 percent of regular municipal garbage is compostable. Twenty-one percent is food scraps, 15 percent is paperboard/paper, eight percent is yard trimmings and eight percent is wood waste.

The Takeaway From These Numbers

Bottom line, the U.S. recycles far less waste than it produces compared to other developed countries. In fact, the U.S. is the only developed nation where their waste generation outweighs their ability of recycling.

Recycling is among the best ways you can positively impact the world you live in. It’s essential to both us and the natural environment. We need to act fast since the amount of waste being created is rising all the time and we need to do what we can to preserve the plant.

Learn more at Reusethisbag.com on how you can help minimize waste by using rpet recycled plastic bags or reusable grocery bags. Both are highly environmentally friendly tote bag options.

Douglas Lober

Author: Douglas Lober

Douglas Lober grew up in Southern California and is an environmentalist at heart. He donates his time and finances to helping children better understand how they can become fine stewards of the Earth. He is he co-Founder and Chief Sales Professional at Reusethisbag.com with over 15 years experience as an overseas importer and exporter of fine eco-friendly promotional items.

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