Twenty Facts About Recycling You Should Share

by Nicola Temple on November 16, 2011

Whether you’re trying to convey the importance of recycling to friends or run a full-fledged community education campaign, people want to know facts and statistics. Here are twenty facts about recycling that might help your efforts.

General facts

Fact#1: An estimated 60% of household waste can be recycled or composted. In the US, approximately 34% of household waste was recycled or composted in 2010.

Fact#2: In 2010, Americans generated 250 million tons of trash, or 4.43 pounds per person per day. We recycled or composted nearly 85 million tons of this, or 1.51 pounds per person per day (source).

Fact#3: Woodbury, New Jersey was the first city in the US to mandate recycling in 1980. Now nearly 9000 curbside recycling programs exist across the US.

Fact#4: Car batteries are the most successfully recycled waste product in the US, with 96.2% being recycled (source).  Ever wondered how car batteries are recycled? Have a look at this comprehensive video showing the process.

Saving trees: paper recycling facts

Fact#5: Paper can be recycled 5 to 8 times before the fibers are too short and weak to be reincorporated into new paper (source).

Fact#6:1993 was the first year more paper was recycled than buried in landfills (source).

Fact#7: In the US, 71.6% of newspapers, directories, inserts, and advertisements were recycled in 2010 (source).

Fact#8:  We would save about 25 million trees a year, if every American recycled even just one-tenth of their newspapers, which means if we recycled ALL newspapers, we’d save 250 million trees a year (source).

Fact#9: If we recycled every one of the papers from the New York Times’ Sunday run, we’d save 75,000 trees (source).

Stop mining: aluminum recycling facts

Fact#10: It can be as little as 60 days from the time you throw an aluminum soda can in the recycling to the time it appears on the shelf as a new drink (source).

Fact#11: Aluminum can be recycled indefinitely!

Fact#12: Americans use over 80 billion aluminum cans every year (source), but only recycle 49.6% of these (source).

Fact#13: Recycling aluminum uses only 5% of the energy required to produce an aluminum can from virgin materials.

Facts about recycling

One of the more disconcerting facts about recycling - only 21% of the nearly 22 billion plastic bottles used annually in the US are recycled. CC image courtesy of Steven Depolo on Flickr.

Plastic in the ecosystem: plastic recycling facts

Fact#14: Recycling plastic is twice as efficient as incinerating it (source).

Fact#15: Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour (source), and only 21% of PET bottles and jars were recycled in 2010 (source).

Fact #16: While recycling plastic bottles has become streamlined in many recycling facilities, sorting other plastic materials, such as toys is extremely labour intensive and difficult as they may contain a dozen or more types of plastics (source).

Facts about the global leaders

Fact#17:  Austria is the world’s best recycling nation, with 60% of household waste recycled or composted. Their success may be a result of comprehensive curbside collection programs where households are responsible for separating waste. The streets are lined with clearly identified disposal bins for separating materials, rather than just a public trash can (maybe not pretty, but effective). The Austrian government has made it a legal obligation for municipalities to collect and treat organic waste. There are high landfill taxes, which help dissuade municipalities from using landfills. Finally, curbside collection and recovery of packaging waste is funded by industry, placing the onus for recovering packaging back on the producers of that packaging (source).

Fact#18: Brazil isn’t too far off of Austria’s mark with 50% of household waste being recycled or composted (source). I lived in Brazil for over a year and they have the exact opposite approach of Austria. Everything…I mean EVERYTHING…is just thrown into one big container. Labour is so cheap there that separation is done later. It embraces the inherent laziness of the public and says ‘we’ll do the separating for you’ and creates jobs in the meantime.

Financial facts

Fact#19: Recycling initially cost municipalities more than dumping waste into landfills (if you don’t factor in benefits to the environment). However, improvements in technology and increased value of certain recoverable materials such as metals, has made it more profitable. In 2003, Fort Worth, Texas was making one million dollars a year from their recycling program (source).

Fact#20: A study out of Denmark showed that recycling is the most economically efficient means of disposal in 83% of household waste products.

Hopefully you’ve found these facts about recycling interesting and useful.  I think sometimes the biggest mystery about recycling is what happens to it once it’s collected. This video is a tour of the Arizona Ecocentre, a $20 million dollar recycling plant that’s capable of processing over 24 tons of material an hour. It’s noisy…but thorough and worth a watch.

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