Why Americans Don’t Recycle

Recycling is done by just half of Americans daily, and 13 percent don’t recycle at all. Even though they understand the benefits to our environment and economy, their ineptitude of what can and can’t be recycled, doubled with their finding the process inconvenient and time-consuming, is becoming a major hinderance to recycling efforts all across the United States.

People who recycle the most are college graduates and adults over 55, and tend to be residents in the Northeast, and Western areas of the states. One of the major problems facing recycling today is that people don’t know what’s recyclable. They don’t know that items like crayons, trophies, and cat litter can all be recycled (we thought the only way to recycle crayons was by melting them on the dashboard of your parents car when you were little) and have false assumptions about materials that can’t be recycled — waxed material and cardboard soiled by food, like juice and pizza boxes.

When they’re unsure about what to recycle, half of people say they just throw the item away, 26% say they’ll look it up, and 18% say they’ll just throw it into the recycling bin anyways. People understand the benefits of recycling — about how it reduces landfills, saves trees, conserves energy, creates jobs, and makes money — but still have trouble following through.

Any readers have some tips on what helps them remember to recycle? Click here or the image below for a full sized view:


There are 3 comments

Add yours
  1. Dave

    “…their ineptitude of what can and can’t be recycled, doubled with their finding the process inconvenient and time-consuming, is becoming a major hinderance to recycling efforts all across the United States.”

    Agreed. My In-Laws live in Cary, NC where they recycle *everything*. Seriously, their recycle ‘bin’ is the size of the large garbage bins that are for the automated trucks. They only put out their real trash every other week.

    Where I live, I have to constantly look at the recycle label to see if it’s a 1 or 2, since that’s the only plastics we can recycle. Glass and paper isn’t so hard obviously.

  2. Energy Decisions

    The “not knowing what’s recyclable” problem is not entirely a matter of uneducated people, but is more a matter of lack of consistency in what you’re allowed to recycle in different communities and from one year to the next. For example, in some communities in NH, plastic soda bottles can’t be recycled, and there is no bottle deposit to encourage people to return bottles. In addition, different communities pay for different recycling services. Ours does *not* take crayons, or paper that has food waste on it, or “white box” cardboard, or cat litter, or batteries, or compact fluorescent bulbs. Nor does our town take metals other than relatively high grade steel (test it with a magnet) or aluminum. The town does not accept plastic bottle caps – from either large or small bottles, and it only recently started accepting #5 plastic, so until this year, we could not recycle yogurt containers.

    If all communities offered recycling services that actually accepted all the things that are recyclable, then much of the problem would go away.

  3. sad

    When I lived in Maryland, I literally had “trash” down to smaller than a tall kitchen bag every week for a family of four. The trash was mostly “feminine hygeine products” (gross) and chicken bones, and some eggshell type of things. EVERYTHING else was recycled, and I had a large trash-bin sized plastic thing on wheels that I would roll out to the curb with every bottle, every paper, every plastic, literally every other thing in it. Why did I recycle? IT WAS POSSIBLE and SIMPLE.
    Fast forward, move to Connecticut. You can only recycle certain amounts of certain things. They charge 5cents for each bottle you use, so you have to store used bottles (disgusting) and time consuming scanning them to return for your tiny fee back. They won’t take certain types of plastic. They only allow OPEN bins, and very small ones, and with all these rules about it and yes, it rains, it is windy, it is SO IMPOSSIBLE because it is the rule to put them out the night before and it blows away. And yes, I am no longer putting out all the effort to recycle. I have advanced degrees. I care a lot. But I only have so many hours in the day to screw around with this. I am actually becoming angry and vindictive. I am at the point where I want to stop recycling ON PURPOSE because of how stupid it is here.

Post a new comment


No spam, just kick ass visuals. Show us some love and sign up.