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United States Recycling Statistics

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If you've noticed a number of new recycling bins popping up around your community, it's probably due to the increased focus on "going green" across America. The United States recycling statistics have vastly improved each year since the first United States recycling center opened its doors in 1896. But, the nation still has a long way to go before it hits a perfect recycling stride.

How Much Trash Do Americans Produce?

Something important to know when talking about recycling is Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), better known as trash. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes into account the MSW statistics each year when computing national recycling figures. MSW includes common household throw-away items such as food scraps, package wrapping, grass clippings and even bigger items like an old microwave, sofa or refrigerator. In relation to recycling statistics, MSW does not include items such as hazardous, industrial or construction waste.

The EPA gives mixed news about total household MSW. The agency reports that while America is experiencing sustained improvements in waste reduction, the overall bulk of the nation's MSW continues to rise. From 1980 to 2005, the amount of MSW generated increased 60 percent! Luckily, since 2005, there have been small decreases in total and per capita MSW. From 2007 to 2009,the total MSW decreased from 255 million tons to 243 million tons. That's still a lot of trash, but it's evident that waste production is on a downward trend.

Current United States Recycling Statistics

The EPA and other recycling websites often use the term "recovery" when discussing recycling to describe the recycling process, when recovering goods that would otherwise be included in waste. While statistics for recycling are collected regularly, it often takes time for the most current numbers to be processed and assimilated for public consumption. This means that many of the numbers on recycling websites can be as much as several years old.

The last time the EPA reported the national recycling figures was in 2009 for 243 million tons of trash generated:

  • 82 million tons composted or recycled for recovery rate of 33.8 percent
  • 29 million tons of MSW combusted for energy recovery
  • 74 percent of office-type paper recovered
  • 60 percent of yard trimmings recovered
  • 34.5 percent of metals recycled
  • 7 million tons of metals recycled reduced greenhouse gas emissions at equivalent of removing 5 million cars from road for one year
  • Approximately 9,000 community curbside recycling programs exist in United States, increase over reported 2002 figure of 8,875
  • Approximately 3,000 community composting programs exist - decrease from reported 2002 figure of 3,227 programs
  • Current amount of MSW per-person discarded in landfills lower than 1960
  • Due to population growth, current total amount discarded MSW in landfills significantly higher than in 1960, yet lower than 1990

My State's Better Than Your State

"My state's better than your state," should be the goal of each and every American state. Drastic measures are necessary to curb the landfill and trash issues that the United States faces. Make it your personal goal to see that your state not only stacks up, but surpasses other states in recycling trends.

Contrast in Some States Recycling Ideology

Some states are already far ahead of other states when it comes to the recycling curve. For instance, in Portland, Oregon, it's rare that you don't see curbside recycling bins, yet, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it is surprising to find someone recycling MSW since there are no curbside recycling programs available. Many states currently offer well-used electronic recycling programs while others have yet to take the initiative to start a program.

Plastic Bottle Recycling Programs

Another recycling project is soda bottles. One of the best ways to get people to recycle drink bottles is to create bottle deposit regulations, but states differ on this. Using the same two states above, Oregon has a bottle deposit where you receive five cents back for each bottle you take to a deposit facility. These recycling centers for Oregon are everywhere and are easily accessible in places, such as grocery stores.

Gallup, New Mexico has a recycling coalition program for plastic bottles that pays one cent for each pound of plastic bottles you recycle. The payment per pound for recyclables in Gallup is consistent with the rest of the states participating in similar recycling programs. See for more information about the recycling programs and opportunities in your state.

How Does Your State Stack-Up?

One of the best ways to improve United States recycling statistics is to start at the state level and filter down to the community level and home level. The more responsibility taken at lower levels in the recycling chain, the better the national outcome will be. Most states provide recycling statistics of some sort, such as those found on the website for MT.gov or your state's recycling page. These websites provide you valuable information about recycling programs, statistics, ideas and ways you can help make a difference. Consumer interest is a great way to get recycling programs started in your community. Most state recycling websites offer ideas and a contact list for communicating your ideas and concerns.

United States Recycling Statistics