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Recycling // Knowledge Base // Waste Industry

70 Interesting Recycling Facts

Explore 70 interesting recycling facts and trash facts, to discover why people find recycling so difficult, and to understand how we can improve our recycling practices.

RoadRunner | May 8, 2024


Most people would agree that recycling is one simple activity that allows them to do their part in bettering the environment. While 80% of people in North America might feel recycling is extremely important, according to a recent survey, they also said the top barrier to recycling better was a lack of access to programs and services. These trash facts and 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 70 interesting recycling and litter facts, to discover why people find recycling so difficult and to understand how technology can enhance 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!

The Problem

Another trash fact: Nearly 30% of Americans report they do not know who to contact with questions about recycling, and almost half do not know where they can drop off recyclables. 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 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 Zero Waste And What Does It Mean For Your Business?]

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 about our innovative RecycleMORE™ program]

The Solution

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 recent survey found 59% of people said they feel better about their waste habits when they purchase something made from recyclable materials and three in five respondents said they always try to make a conscious effort to repurpose or upcycle items. 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 should you or your business need more expertise around how to better manage your waste and recycling, sustainably. 

Cardboard Facts 

1. Recycling cardboard only takes 75% of the energy required to make new cardboard

2. The recycling rate for cardboard in the U.S. reached a record high of nearly 97% in 2019

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. Almost half of the food in the U.S. goes to waste—nearly 3,000 pounds per second

9. The EPA estimates more food waste goes to the landfill than any other item, making up nearly a quarter of municipal solid waste

10. Each year, 119 billion pounds of food is wasted in the U.S.

11. The value of the amount of food waste in the U.S. is estimated at more than $161 billion every year

12. About 30% of food in American grocery stores is thrown away

plastic facts

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 12% of disposable water bottles are recycled in the U.S. each year

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. Polystyrene foam, also known as Styrofoam, may never fully decompose

21. The world produces 400 million tonnes of plastic waste each year

22. Recycling one ton of plastic bottles saves the equivalent energy usage of a two person household for one year


23. Glass can possible take more than 1 million years to break down

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

Litter FACTS

40. U.S. roadways accumulate over 51 billion pieces of litter per year.

41. There are an estimated 6,729 pieces of litter per roadway mile.

42. On average, there are 152 pieces of litter for every U.S. resident.

43. The most commonly littered items are cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic bottles, disposable cups, grocery bags, straws and aluminum beverage cans.

44. Litter cleanups cost the U.S. an estimated $11.5 billion annually.¹

45. Paying the costs, businesses pay $9.1 billion, NGOs pay $769 million, educational institutions pay $240 million and the rest is paid using your state and local tax dollars.³

46. The presence of litter in your neighborhood or community lowers property values by 7%.¹

47. Packaging litter makes up 46% of litter measuring 4 inches or greater.¹

48. 2.6 billion pieces of food packaging litter (snack bags, candy wrappers, etc.) were identified in a 2020 survey of U.S. roadways and waterways.²

49. 394.7 million fast-food cups and 423 million other fast-food packaging items were identified in the same survey.²

50. Plastic waste comprises 38.6% of all litter.²

51. An average American litters or improperly disposes of 100 plastic bottles per year.⁷

52. 207 million items of PPE masks and gloves were found across America’s roads and waterways in 2020.²

53. An estimated 350 million plastic bags were discovered on U.S. roadways and waterways in 2020, 94.6% of which were HDPE grocery bags.²

54. 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution every year.⁵

55. Between 10–12 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean each year.⁶

56. Without immediate action, researchers estimate 29 million metric tons will enter the oceans annually by 2040.⁶

57. One million marine animals are killed by plastic marine litter every year.³

58. Both direct and indirect costs from plastic marine litter is estimated to cost the world $197 billion by 2030.⁴

59. A littered plastic water bottle takes 450 years to decompose; an aluminum can takes 200; a glass bottle takes 1 million.⁸


60. Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year 

61. More than 11 million tons of textiles end up in U.S. landfills each year — an average of about 70 pounds per person

62. Around 25 million metric tons of e-waste is thrown away each year globally

63. The average person generates 4.9 pounds of solid waste every day

64. In 2018, The U.S. generated more than 294 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW)

65. The EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it

66. 94% of the U.S. population has access to some type of recycling program

67. Americans generate an additional 5 million tons of waste throughout the holidays

68. Americans throw away enough trash in an average year to circle the earth 24 times. 

69. Electronic waste totals approximately 2% of the waste stream in the U.S

70. 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? If you're interested in learning how RoadRunner can help your business establish an effective, affordable waste and recycling program that works for your unique needs, then schedule a free consultation with us today!

Feel free to share the infographic for a summary of this information! 

infographic showcasing recycling and sustainability facts



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