Recycling Association Says American Recycling Habits Have Room for Improvement National Waste & Recycling Association

Recycling Association Says American Recycling Habits Have Room for Improvement

A new survey from the National Waste & Recycling Association finds that a third of Americans are kind of clueless when it comes to recycling.

Curbside recycling is available to more than half of American adults, but the public could benefit from additional education on what can be recycled, according to a recent national survey.

The survey, commissioned in honor of Earth Day by the National Waste & Recycling Association (Waste & Recycling) and conducted online by Harris Poll among more than 2,000 U.S. adults in April, found that two-thirds of Americans are clear on what belongs in recycling bins, indicating an opportunity to expand the other third’s knowledge of what can be recycled.

"It is encouraging to learn that many Americans have access to recycling at home and are smart about what materials are recyclable. Our industry works every day to expand recycling, to increase the variety of materials we can recycle and to better educate the public to recycle even smarter," said Sharon H. Kneiss, president and CEO of Waste & Recycling.

The survey found that more than half of Americans (55 percent) confirm their town or city offers "curbside collection" of recyclables, which they place into a bin or cart separate from their household trash bin. Additionally, two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) say they’re clear on what materials go in recycling bins, and 64 percent know it is necessary to rinse used food containers before placing them into recycling receptacles.

Yet, there is some room for improvement on our recycling behaviors. For example, the survey found that one item causes particular confusion, as 39 percent of Americans incorrectly believe it is acceptable to recycle plastic bags by tossing them into household bins. Plastic bags can damage and even shut down recycling facilities and should instead be recycled at participating grocery stores.

The survey also uncovered that one in every 10 Americans (9 percent) admit to having put their trash into recycling bins or carts when their own trash container was full, and one in five (20 percent) admit they will place an item into a recycling container even if they are not completely sure it is recyclable.

“Americans should ‘know before they throw’ when recycling – it's important to put the right materials in the bin and to keep the wrong ones out. This preserves the quality of the recycling stream and prevents contamination and damage to recycling equipment and facilities,” Kneiss said. 

But she reiterated the industry is focused on expanding access and options.

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