Only 5% of plastic waste is recycled (& 24 other shocking eco facts)


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Check out our updated list for 25 of the most relevant statistics on the recycling industry.

Considering the EPA hasn’t released an updated report on the state of recycling and waste since 2018, it can be difficult to get an idea of how the recycling industry has changed in the past few years. Luckily, we have compiled the most recent statistics on plastic, paper, aluminum, glass, electronic and food recycling for 2022.

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Top recycling statistics of 2022

The widely circulated statistic that 9% of plastic waste is recycled in the U.S. has now been deemed an overestimate.1 Here are some stats that show how recycling has changed in recent years:

1. Of the 40 million tons of plastic waste generated in the U.S. in 2021, only 5% to 6% — or about two million tons — was recycled.

2. Between 2019 and 2020, there was a 5.7% overall decrease in plastics recovered for recycling in the U.S. That is the equivalent of 290 million pounds.

3. Approximately 36% of all plastic produced is used to create packaging, 85% of which ends up in landfills.

4. About 98% of single-use plastic products are made from fossil fuels.

5. Globally, we produce about 400 million tons of plastic waste yearly.

6. Until recently, the U.S. outsourced a significant portion of its plastic, but import bans in countries like China and Turkey have fueled a decline in recycling.

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Plastic recycling facts & statistics

Plastic recycling has long posed challenges. Unlike glass and metal, plastic cannot be repeatedly recycled without quickly degrading in quality.

7. The total bottle recycling rate for 2020 was 27.2%, down from 28.7% in 2019.

8. Every hour, 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away in the U.S.4

9. Between 75 and 199 million tons of plastic are currently in our oceans.

10. Plastic bottles take upwards of 450 years to degrade.

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Paper recycling facts & statistics

Paper is one of the most-often recycled materials, accounting for half of the materials collected for recycling by weight.

11. More than 50 million tons of paper were recovered for recycling in 2021, achieving a 68% recycling rate.

12. In 2021, 91.4% of corrugated cardboard was recycled.

13. Almost half of the paper recycled in 2021 was used to make cardboard boxes.

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Aluminum recycling facts & statistics

Due to high recycling rates, aluminum only accounts for 1% of the waste stream in the U.S. Aluminum, like glass, can be endlessly recycled with far less energy needed versus creating a product out of raw materials.

14. Consumption of aluminum in the U.S. was 4.3 million metric tons in 2021, up from 3.98 million metric tons in 2020.

15. Global demand for aluminum is expected to grow by more than 80% by 205.10

16. Although aluminum can be infinitely recycled, 7 million tons of aluminum are still not recycled each year.

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Glass Recycling Facts & Statistics

Glass is made of common materials like sand and limestone, and it is one of the cheapest and most efficient materials to recycle.

17. About 110 million glass bottles are thrown away every day in the U.S., of which only one-third get recycled.13

18. It is cheaper to make glass products out of recycled materials than virgin raw materials.13

19. Unlike plastic, glass bottles and jars are fully recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without degradation of quality or purity.

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E-Waste recycling facts & statistics

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the fastest-growing source of waste globally. Most e-waste does not get disposed of properly and releases harmful pollutants into the environment.

20. Globally, e-waste volumes grew to 53.6 million metric tons in 2019, an increase of 21% since 2014.

21. Only 17.4% of e-waste discarded in 2019 was recycled.

22. Of the 6.92 million tons of e-waste discarded by Americans in 2019, only 15% was recycled

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Food waste recycling facts & statistics

Chronic food misallocation and inefficiency have caused food waste to be the largest category of waste.

23. Globally, 40% of the food produced is wasted. The food lost on farms alone could feed every undernourished person in the world four times over.

24. Food waste generates around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

25. Each year, home composting could divert 330 pounds of food waste per household from landfills.

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Recycling: The Bottom Line

Accessing relevant, up-to-date information about recycling can be difficult. Some materials, like glass and aluminum, have relatively high recycling rates and can be recycled endlessly. On the other hand, many types of plastics are labeled as recyclable when they are not.

In many cases, plastic recycling is more costly and energy-intensive than creating plastic from raw materials, contributing to the low recycling rates. Misinformation is rampant, and plastic is being recycled at an even lower rate than previously estimated. The recycling industry has a long way to go when it comes to plastic waste. However, paper, glass and aluminum recycling has proven that recycling programs can be successful.

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