What is Your Recycling Reality?

Planet Aid, recycling

Did you know that your recycling behavior is dependent on local attitudes where you live?

A survey by the Pew Research Center examined recycling behavior and norms in communities across the United States.* The Center found that "practices and community norms around recycling vary considerably from place to place, contributing to dramatically different local recycling levels."

About half of the respondents in the survey said that their communities encouraged recycling but in general there was not too much concern about it. This group occupied the large "middle ground" of the recycling-norm continuum established by the survey. The other half of the respondents were nearly split between those on one end who said their communities strongly encouraged recycling and those on the other end who said that recycling where they lived was not important.

The "strongly encouraged" group also said they had good recycling services available (such as curbside pick-up and drop-off centers) and they were more aware of rules regarding what can and cannot be recycled. Conversely, those who said recycling was not encouraged where they lived had few services and had little knowledge about rules.

How Does it Shake Out Nationally?

So what states and regions lead the nation in recycling? Relying on data from a study by Columbia University, the Pew Center determined that the highest recycling rates were found in California (53.4%), Maine (51.5%), and Washington state (50.1%). In comparison, the lowest states were Oklahoma (3.7%), Alaska (4.5%), and Mississippi (4.8%). The overall national recycling rate is 34.3%.

More information about regional differences in recycling (as well as incineration, landfilling, and composting of waste) appears on a map prepared by the Columbia team at the Earth Engineering Center.

Climate Change and the Challenges Ahead

With climate change threatening the planet, the arguments for raising recycling rates have never been stronger. Using recycled versus virgin material uses less energy and thus fewer greenhouse gases are emitted. Moreover, by diverting waste from the landfill to the recycling stream there is less material that will end up decomposing in a landfill and emit greenhouse gases. Reducing the volume of harmful landfill gases escaping into the environment had been a priority under the Obama Administration, and new EPA rules were introduced in July 2016 to address the matter. The new rules will require operators to invest in more equipment to capture harmful gases. The costs of these measures will not be cheap, which means that communities will have to pay more to dump materials in a landfill. Recycling will thus soon make even greater economic as well as environmental sense.

While increasing landfill costs create a more favorable climate for recycling, there is also the problem of the drop in market prices for recyclable material. Just a few years ago municipalities that contracted with recycling companies to collect bottles, cans, plastic, and other recyclables received a check back from the companies from the sale of the material. Today, the situation has nearly reversed, with the drop in materials prices forcing recycling companies to now charge municipalities for services, creating greater strain on on local budgets.

What About Textiles?

Planet Aid, recyclingNationally, textiles still mostly end up in landfills and incinerators, with only about 15 percent of the material being diverted for reuse or recycling (for the sake of comparison, the recycling rate for paper is 63 percent). With a very few exceptions, municipalities do not accept textiles in curbside recycling programs, and textiles that are put in curbside bins are treated as "contaminants" and frequently discarded.

Planet Aid is trying to fill the gap in this problem by increasing recycling convenience, which can help raise textile recycling rates. And we provide this service at no cost. We also work hard to educate consumers about the need to reduce waste and create a stronger recycling culture. Planet Aid has 19,000 bins nationwide and is proud to work with local communities and business owners to reduce municipal disposal costs and fight climate change.

Visit our Government Resources page for more information.



*The survey was part of a broader Pew Research Center study focused on climate change, energy, and the environment.