Eye-Opening Recycling Statistics [U.S. and Global]

Recycling Statistics

Reduce, reuse, recycle — it’s a mantra we endorse wholeheartedly here at Cash 4 Toners, where recycling is a top priority. 

But are Americans adopting the “reduce, reuse, recycle” philosophy into their everyday lives? 

Let’s take a look at recycling statistics in the United States and abroad.

Recycling in the US

Statements made by former Director of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler at the America Recycles Summit held on November 17, 2020 suggest public education is still lacking when it comes to recycling. 

Wheeler also announced bold plans to increase the US recycling rate to 50% by 2030.

Pandemic Increases Municipal Waste​

According to The Conversation, the COVID-19 lockdown resulted in an increase in municipal waste as people overpackaged goods, got groceries delivered, and ordered takeout.

Cities like Chicago saw a 50% increase in municipal waste during the pandemic, while most US cities saw an average increase of 20%.

American Recycling Stats

  • The US creates three times more waste than the global average. (VersikMaplecroft)
  • 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) were generated in 2018. (US EPA)
Municipal Solid Waste Generated by Material
Total MSW Landfill by Material
Source: EPA.gov
  • Municipal waste increased an average of 20% during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. (The Conversation)
  • 3,091 active landfills and over 10,000 inactive landfills exist in the US (ZeroWasteAmerica)
  • The US recycling rate fell from 34.7% in 2015 to 32.1% in 2018. (US EPA)
  • The US creates enough MSW to fill 822,000 Olympic swimming pools each year. (VersikMaplecroft)
  • Only 16% of America’s municipal waste is properly recycled. (VersikMaplecroft)
  • 92% of Americans age 18-34 recycle. (Statista)
  • 94% of Ameicans support recycling. (Carton Council) 
  • 9 out of 10 Americans claim they would recycle more if it were easier to recycle. (Rubicon)
  • The estimated cost to recycle trash is $30 per ton. This is cheaper than sending it to a landfill ($50 per ton) or burning it ($65-75 per ton). (University of Southern Indiana)
  • 75% of US waste is recyclable but only 34% gets recycled. (Rubicon)

Paper and Cardboard Recycling Stats (US)

  • 66.5% of paper and cardboard was recycled in the US in 2018. (US EPA)
  • Making paper from recycled products reduced air pollution by 74% and used 50% less water. (Penn State University)
  • 90% of items shipped in the US arrive in cardboard. (Petpedia)
  • 13,000 pieces of cardboard are throw away by the typical US household each year. (Petpedia)
  • Only 25% of US cardboard is recycled. (USA Today)

Plastic Recycling Stats (US)

  • 300 million tons of plastic waste are produced each year. (CompareCamp)
  • Only 4.47% of plastic waste was recycled in the US in 2018. (US EPA)
  • 91% of plastic is not recycled. (NationalGeographic)
  • 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away every hour in the United States. (Recycle Across America)
  • 35 billion plastic bottles are thrown away every year in the United States. (Petpedia)
  • Recycling one ton of plastic saves up to 2,000 gallons of gasoline. (CompareCamp)

Glass Recycling Stats (US)

  • Glass is 100% recyclable. (Glass Packaging Institute)
  • 3.35 million tons of recycled glass are used each year. (Glass Packaging Institute)
  • 80% of recycled glass is used to make new glass bottles. (The Balance Small Business)
  • Glass takes 4,000 years to decompose. (Rubicon)
  • 31.3 percent of glass was recycled in the United States in 2018. (EPA.gov)
  • Over one ton of natural resources are saved for every ton of recycled glass. (Glass Packaging Institute)

Other US Recycling Stats

  • 52% of yard trimmings were recycled in the US in 2018.  (US EPA)
  • Only 2% of electronic waste is recycled, yet it is responsible for 70% of the toxic materials found in landfills. (Business Insider)
  • Recycling one million mobile phones could save 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium. (CompareCamp)
  • 11 million tons of textiles — including clothes and shoes — end up in landfills, yet are 100% recyclable. (EPA.gov)
  • Only 2% of building materials are properly recycled in the United States. (The Balance Small Business)
  • 95% of energy is saved by making aluminum products from recycled aluminum. (GreenPak)

The Best and the Worst US States For Recycling

  • Maine has the best recycling rate in the US at 72%. (Ball/Eunomia)
  • Vermont has the second-best recycling rate in the US at 63%. (Ball/Eunomia)
  • The states with the worst recycling rates are West Virginia (2%) and Louisiana (4%). (Ball/Eunomia)
States that Recycle the Most

Global Recycling Stats

  • 1 million seabirds die each year as a result of unrecycled plastic. (WWF)
  • An estimated 99% of all seabird species will have ingested plastic by 2050. (WWF)
  • 100% of baby sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs. (Condor Ferries)
  • 8 million pieces of plastic enter the world’s oceans every day. (Condor Ferries)
  • 88% of the ocean surface is polluted by plastic. (Condor Ferries)
  • 1-in-3 fish caught for human consumption contain plastic. (Condor Ferries)
  • People have consumed more globally in the last 50 years than the rest of history combined. (Bureau of International Recycling)
  • Deforestation and landfills account for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling could reduce this number. (GreenPak)
  • Germany leads the world with the highest recycling rate of 66.1% (CompareCamp)
  • Singapore and Wales placed second and third, with 60.6% and 60.2% respectively. (CompareCamp)
  • Global waste production will increase 70% by 2050 if we don’t change our recycling habits. (CompareCamp)
  • Sweden implemented a system called Panta which pays citizens to recycle. (CompareCamp)

Recycling Benefits Us All

  • 17 trees are saved by recycling one ton of paper. (DoItGreen)
  • Recycling saves over 700 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. (Bureau of International Recycling)
  • The recycling industry employs more than 1.6 million people. (Bureau of International Recycling)
  • Recycling in mining and manufacturing saves 95% of water use. (CompareCamp)
  • $230 billion in gross sales are generated by US recycling every year. (CompareCamp)
  • The global recycling market is expected to grow to $76.1 billion by 2025. (CompareCamp)

Further reading:



One thought on “Eye-Opening Recycling Statistics [U.S. and Global]

  1. Cole Byrne

    Thanks for sharing this! All the best!


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