Every year, people all over the world are producing an increasing amount of trash. Even though most of it can be recycled or composted, the majority is still dumped in landfills. Only about 13% is recycled on the global level. Hopefully, these recycling statistics will help people realize how important it is to recycle. Most of the materials take hundreds of years to decompose, and plastic needs up to 1,000 years. Besides preventing pollution, recycling delivers a number of other benefits. It preserves natural resources, saves energy, and protects the environment and human health.
The Top 8 Recycling Statistics for 2020
- On average, every American produces 1,609 pounds of garbage every year.
- Americans throw away 20 billion disposable diapers every year.
- Sweden dumps only 1% of its trash in landfills.
- China produces the largest amount of plastic packaging waste in the world.
- Recycling a 3-foot-high stack of newspapers can spare a tree.
- 91% of plastic waste doesn’t get recycled.
- By 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish (by weight).
- Glass can be recycled over and over again without losing its quality.
United States Recycling Statistics
1. On average, every American produces 1,609 pounds of garbage every year.
This makes the US the greatest producer of trash in the world. Considering that Americans make up 5% of the world’s population, it’s devastating to find out that they produce 40% of the total waste in the world.
2. In 2017, 67.2 million tons of municipal solid waste were recycled in the US.
In addition, the recycling stats show that about 27 million tons of MSW (municipal solid waste) were composted. Considering that 267.8 million tons of MSW were generated, the percentage of recycled and composted waste was 35.2%.
And which material was mostly recycled?
3. 66% of recycled waste was paper and paperboard.
Metals accounted for approximately 12%, and only 4–5% of recycled waste was plastic, glass, and wood. Even though there’s a lot of room for improvement, the good news is that there’s a rising trend in recycling rates. Based on the US recycling statistics, in 1960, only about 6% of MSW was recycled, while in 2017, the recycling rate was over 35%. So American recycling efforts are showing some promising results.
4. 28.8 million tons of corrugated boxes were recycled in 2017.
When it comes to different types of materials, corrugated boxes were the most-recycled items. They’re followed by yard trimmings: 24.4 million tons were composted. If you have a garden, you can also contribute to this type of recycling efforts. Also, a considerable amount of nondurable paper products and newspapers/mechanical papers were recycled, 9.9 million tons and 4.2 million tons respectively.
5. About 3 million tons of wooden pallets were recycled in 2017.
Statistics about recycling indicate that the generation of wooden packaging waste amounted to 11.4 million tons in 2017, which was 4.2% of the total waste.
6. Americans throw away 20 billion disposable diapers every year.
In addition to creating 3.5 million tons of waste, disposable diapers need up to 500 years to degrade. They also use a sea of natural resources to make. Every year, about 200,000 trees and 3.4 billion gallons of fuel oil are used to produce diapers in the US.
World Recycling Statistics
7. 68% of municipal waste was recycled and composted in Germany in 2017.
(EEA, Report on Global Recycling Rates)
Germany is the leading country in Europe when it comes to recycling municipal waste. It’s followed by Austria (58%), Slovenia (58%), and Belgium (54%). In fact, Germany is also the leader on a global scale. According to global waste statistics, the top five countries, besides Germany, include Austria, South Korea, Wales, and Switzerland.
8. Sweden dumps only 1% of trash in landfills.
Sweden has realized the importance of recycling and responsible waste management. It recycles 47% of its trash and converts 52% into energy. This way, it generates enough energy to heat one million homes, and it provides electricity for 250,000 homes.
To get everyone involved, Sweden gives discount vouchers to citizens who use recycling machines. Also, there’s a recycling center within 1,000 feet of every residential area. Plus, they provide kids with facts about recycling from an early age.
9. On the global level, we produce 2.12 billion tons of waste every year.
(Global Recycling Day)
According to the World Bank, it’s estimated that this amount of trash will triple by 2100. Therefore, recycling might be the only solution to protecting the environment and preserving natural resources.
10. China produces the largest amount of plastic packaging waste in the world.
However, the US is the greatest producer of plastic packaging waste per capita. It’s followed by Japan and the European Union, as the stats about recycling show.
11. The worldwide population uses 1 to 5 trillion plastic bags every year.
If 5 trillion plastic bags are used every year, it means that almost 10 million bags are consumed every minute, or 160,000 every second! Another interesting but sad fact is that 5 trillion plastic bags could cover an area twice the size of France.
Metal Recycling Facts
12. About 2 million tons of steel packaging waste was generated in the US in 2017.
Steel packaging includes steel cans, steel barrels, strapping, and other types of steel containers. The generated amount of this type of waste amounts to 0.8% of total MSW.
13. Over 73% of generated steel containers and packaging was recycled.
In other words, about 1.5 million tons of steel packaging was recycled in 2017. In addition to recycling metal, facts show that the US combusted approximately 5% of this type of waste for energy recovery.
14. About 1.9 million tons of aluminum packaging waste was generated in 2017.
Beer and beverage cans, foil, and closures, such as caps, are some examples of aluminum packaging. According to estimates, they represent 0.8 percent of the total generation of municipal solid waste.
15. 49.2% of aluminum beverage cans were recycled in 2017.
Aluminum recycling facts indicate that about 620,000 tons of aluminum cans were recycled in 2017, while there’s no available data for other types of aluminum containers and packaging. In addition, approximately 13.8% of aluminum packaging waste was combusted with energy recovery.
16. Recycling a can takes 95% less water and energy than making a can from raw materials.
(Recycle Across America)
Interestingly, you can save enough energy to power a TV for an entire day by recycling only one aluminum can.
Paper Recycling Facts
17. 73.3% of paper and paperboard packaging was recycled in 2017.
In 2017, the generation of paper and paperboard packaging waste amounted to 41.1 million tons. About 30.1 million tons of this type of waste were recycled, making the recycling rate for paper waste about 73.3%.
18. Recycling a 3-foot-high stack of newspaper can spare a tree.
(Recycle Across America)
According to the University of Southern Indiana, we can save 17 trees by recycling a ton of paper. In addition, this saves 4,000 kilowatts of energy, 380 gallons of oil, and 7,000 gallons of water.
Facts About Recycling Plastic
19. 91% of plastic waste hasn’t been recycled.
So far, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been created, and most of it (6.3 billion metric tons) has ended up in the trash. And as if this isn’t shocking enough, only 9% of this amount has been recycled.
20. The generation of plastic containers and packaging was estimated at 14.5 million tons in 2017.
We should all know some basic recycling facts. Plastic packaging includes PET bottles, HDPE (high-density polyethylene) milk jugs, bags, and other products made of LDPE (low-density polyethylene), as well as other plastic packaging made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), PP (polypropylene), and other plastic resins. In total, the generation of this type of waste amounts to 5.3% of MSW generation.
21. Only 13% of plastic packaging waste was recycled in the US in 2017.
About 860,000 tons of PET bottles and 240,000 tons of HDPE bottles were recycled in 2017. In total, the recycling facts and statistics show that approximately 1.9 million tons of this type of waste were recycled. In addition, the rate of combustion with energy recovery of plastic packaging was about 17%.
22. When thrown into a landfill, plastic needs about 1,000 years to degrade.
Therefore, it’s always better to use containers made of glass or aluminum, completely recyclable materials. In addition, we can drastically reduce the need for disposable plastic bottles by using reusable glasses and bottles. Based on the plastic recycling statistics, this way, on average, each of us wouldn’t have a need for about 100 plastic bottles a year.
23. People around the world buy about 20,000 plastic bottles every second.
There’s a constant increase in the demand for plastic bottles. In 2016, people around the world bought over 480 billion plastic bottles. If the trend continues, this number will rise to over 580 billion by 2021.
Unfortunately, when it comes to plastic bottle recycling, the facts show us that our efforts can’t keep up.
24. By 2050, the ocean will have more plastic in it than fish (by weight).
In 2016, less than 50% of the bottles sold were recycled. Instead of being recycled, plastic bottles mostly end up in landfills, or even worse, in the ocean. Every year, 5 to 13 million tons of plastic go into the ocean. As birds, fish, and other animals ingest it, plastic also ends up on our plates. This is another reason we need to spread the water bottle recycling facts and start acting!
25. About 100 billion plastic bags were used in the US every day in 2014.
(Earth Policy Institute)
To reduce the use of plastic bags, many cities and countries have banned or imposed a fee for their use. Denmark was the first country to pass a plastic bag tax back in 1993.
Glass Recycling Facts
26. Approximately 3 million tons of glass containers were recycled in the US in 2017.
Since about 8.9 million tons of glass containers were generated, almost 34% of the generated amount was recycled. In addition, approximately 13% was combusted with energy recovery, based on the US recycling stats.
27. Glass can be recycled over and over again without losing its quality.
Food and beverage packaging made of glass is 100% recyclable. However, it shouldn’t be mixed with other kinds of glass, such as crystal, windows, etc., because these are produced through different processes.
Other Recycling Statistics
28. The recycling industry creates more jobs than the solid waste management industry.
In the US, 1.25 million people work in the recycling industry, while only about 250,000 work in the American waste management industry. In addition, on average, employees in the recycling industry earn more.
29. Recycling waste is costlier than disposing of it in landfills.
When it comes to recycling costs, statistics indicate that the cost of recycling is $147 per ton while landfilling costs $28 per ton. However, recycling is not all about money—it’s about protecting our environment and human health. On the other hand, recycling programs can also damage the environment. So it’s always best to try to reduce the generation of waste and promote reusable containers and packaging. Plus, you can also think of creative ways to reuse your old furniture.
What are the statistics on recycling appliances?
According to the statistics from 2017, the generation of major appliances (or white goods) was 5.2 million tons in the US. About 60% of that amount, or about 3.1 million tons, was recycled in order to recover ferrous metals (iron and steel).
When it comes to small appliances, such as hairdryers and toasters, only about 6% was recycled.
What are the benefits of recycling?
By recycling, we can prevent pollution and protect the environment. In addition, the facts about waste and recycling show that it helps us preserve natural resources, such as water, timber, and minerals, and save energy. Recycling can also have a positive effect on national economies since it provides a domestic source of materials and creates jobs.
How does recycling help the environment?
Since recycled materials can replace raw materials, there’s less need for mining, cutting down trees, and other extraction processes. Also, recycling reduces the needed amount of raw materials to be processed, which is confirmed by the recycling statistics. Therefore, it reduces air and water pollution.
In addition, it positively affects climate change by saving energy and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
(The Government of Jersey)
Considering the devastating effect of waste on our environment, and consequently our health, it’s crucial to act while we still have a chance. Therefore, we should try to be as eco-friendly as possible. For a start, we can use renewable energy resources, such as solar energy, and recycle. All the recycling statistics clearly indicate that we have to take care of our planet by keeping it clean. Don’t think that your efforts don’t count—each of us can make a difference!
- Blue Ocean
- Earth Policy Institute
- European Environmental Agency
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Global Recycling Day
- Glass Packaging institute
- National Geographic
- Recycling Coalition of Utah
- Recycle Across America
- Report on Global Recycling Rates
- United Nations Environment Programme
- University of Maryland
- University of Southern Indiana
- The Government of Jersey
- The Guardian