This post was originally written May 2019 and updated Sept. 2020
Most people would agree that recycling is one “simple” activity that allows them to do their part in bettering the environment. And, while the majority of individuals have good intentions when recycling, 62 percent of Americans worry that a lack of knowledge is causing them to do so incorrectly. According to the findings, these concerns stem from an absence of recycling information and a general misunderstanding of what can and can’t be recycled. Luckily, with better information at our fingertips, we can all do our part in protecting the environment by educating ourselves, our customers, and our colleagues about the significance of effective and sustainable waste management practices as well as proper recycling techniques.
To help with this effort, we put together some useful recycling tips to keep in mind when trying to make a difference for the planet. Read on to start exploring 50 interesting recycling facts, to discover why people find recycling so difficult, and to understand how we can go about improving recycling practices now and in the future. Be sure to share our infographic below with anyone who would find it helpful and please enjoy the following educational facts, which prove that the investment in recycling knowledge is worth it!
A whopping twenty-two percent of Americans report not having enough recycling information, and 18 percent admit they don’t understand what can and can’t be recycled. Unfortunately, improper recycling practices come at a price known as contamination, which is an issue that significantly reduces the value of recyclable materials and, most often, deems them unrecyclable and destined for landfill. For example, one non-recyclable item (like a messy plastic bag with food residue) can contaminate an entire load of recyclable materials and force your waste hauler to send them all to landfill.
[Read our post: What Is Recycling Contamination?]
Sending waste to landfill is problematic for several reasons, but, most importantly, because doing so creates innumerable environmental and health problems in local communities. For instance, as garbage decomposes, it creates a toxic blend of liquids called leachate, which results in large amounts of pollution both in the air and in local water sources. Landfills also account for the largest man-made source of methane gas in the United States—A powerful greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.
Furthermore, when we don’t recycle, the demand for natural resources needed to create new products increases. The Global Recycling Foundation noted that in 2017, we used a year's worth of these resources in only seven months, and if this trend continues we will eventually run out of these precious resources.
[Read our post: What Is a Circular Economy?]
Fortunately, with environmental issues becoming an increasing concern across the globe, many people are already motivated to do the right thing for the planet. A Futerra survey found that 96 percent of people feel that their own actions, whether donating, recycling, or buying ethically, can make a positive difference. Given this information, businesses and individuals have an excellent opportunity to prioritize recycling education to improve recycling rates and overall sustainability practices. To get started, begin your recycling education below by familiarizing yourself with the following facts. And, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our representatives should you or your business need more expertise around how to better manage your waste and recycling, sustainably.
1. Recycling cardboard only takes 75% of the energy required to make new cardboard
2. Over 90% of all products shipped in the U.S. are packaged in corrugated boxes, which makes up more than 400 billion square feet of cardboard
3. Around 80% of retailers and grocers recycle cardboard
4. 70% of corrugated cardboard is recovered for recycling
5. Approximately 100 billion cardboard boxes are produced each year in the U.S.
6. One ton of recycled cardboard saves 46 gallons of oil
7. One ton of recycled cardboard saves 9 cubic yards of landfill space
8. Nearly half of the food in the U.S. goes to waste—approximately 3,000 pounds per second
9. Only about 5% of food is diverted from landfill
10. The U.S. produces approximately 34 million tons of food waste each year
11. Food scraps make up almost 12% of municipal solid waste generated in the U.S.
12. In 2015, about 137.7 million tons of MSW were landfilled. Food was the largest component at about 22%
13. 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away every hour in America
14. Recycling plastic takes 88% less energy than making it from raw materials
15. Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times
16. Only 23% of disposable water bottles are recycled
17. Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to decompose
18. Recycling one ton of plastic saves the equivalent of 1,000–2,000 gallons of gasoline
19. Recycling plastic saves twice as much energy as burning it in an incinerator
20. Styrofoam never decomposes
21. The world produces more than 14 million tons of Polystyrene (plastic foam) each year
22. Recycling one ton of plastic bottles saves the equivalent energy usage of a two person household for one year
23. A modern glass bottle would take 4,000 years or more to decompose -- and even longer if it's in landfill
24. Glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality or purity
25. More than 28 billion glass bottles and jars go to landfills every year. That's enough to fill two Empire State Buildings every three weeks
26. Recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100-watt lightbulb for four hours
27. Americans use 85 million tons of paper per year which is about 680 pounds per person
28. 70% of the total waste in offices is paper waste
29. Recycling one ton of paper saves 7,000 gallons of water
30. The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year
31. American businesses use around 21 million tons of paper - with about 750,000 copies made every minute
32. Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 mature trees
33. Recycling a stack of newspaper just 3 feet high saves one tree
34. Approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper are thrown away every year in the U.S.
35. The average person has the opportunity to recycle more than 25,000 cans in their life
36. An aluminum can can be recycled and back on a grocery store shelf as a new can in as little as 60 days
37. Aluminum can be recycled forever without any loss of quality
38. Aluminum can be recycled using only 5% of the energy used to make the product from new materials
39. Recycling a single aluminum can saves enough energy to power a TV for 3 hours
40. Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year
41. About 11 million tons of textiles end up in U.S. landfills each year — an average of about 70 pounds per person
42. In 2007, 1.8 million tons of e-waste ended up in landfills
43. The average person generates 4.4 pounds of solid waste every day
44. In 2014, The U.S. generated 258 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW)
45. The EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it
46. 94% of the U.S. population has access to some type of recycling program
47. Americans generate an additional 5 million tons of waste throughout the holidays
48. Americans throw away enough trash in an average year to circle the earth 24 times.
49. Electronic waste totals approximately 2% of the waste stream in the U.S
50. On average, it costs $30 per ton to recycle trash, $50 to send it to the landfill and $65 to $75 to incinerate it
We hope you find these facts to be as interesting as we do! Which fact(s) are the most surprising to you? Let us know it the comment section below, or reach out to us if you have any questions. If you're interested in learning how RoadRunner can help your business recycle more, then schedule a free consultation with us today! One of our representatives will be happy to walk you through how we can help your business recycle more and spend less. Thanks for reading.
Feel free to share the infographic for a summary of this information!
- The EPA
- Recycle Across America: https://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/recycling-facts
- dosomething.org: https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-recycling
- cardboardbalers.org: https://www.cardboardbalers.org
- utahrecycles.org: https://utahrecycles.org/get-the-facts/the-facts-plastic/
- Earth Day Network: https://www.earthday.org/2018/03/29/fact-sheet-single-use-plastics/
- greeningforward.org: http://greeningforward.org/environmental-issues/waste/recycle/recycling-facts/
- St. Charles County: https://www.sccmo.org/863/Recycling-Facts
- Pew Research Center: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/07/perceptions-and-realities-of-recycling-vary-widely-from-place-to-place/