by: Leslie Jones

Considering that recycling bins and carts around our neighborhoods always seem to be full, and recycling drop-off locations are brimming with newspapers, cardboard and all kinds of other recyclable materials we have successfully saved from the landfill, you would think that the recycling rate in America would be quite high, right?  Not really.

“33 percent of glass containers were recycled while...13 percent of plastic containers and packaging was recycled, mostly from soft drink, milk, and water bottles. Plastic bottles were the most recycled plastic products. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and jars were recovered at about 29 percent. Recovery of high density polyethylene (HDPE) natural (white translucent) bottles was estimated at about 28 percent. The highest recovery rates were achieved in....more than 62 percent of the paper and paperboard we generated.”*

These numbers don’t seem to explain why we see full recycling containers all over town.  Is it because there are actually recyclable materials going into the landfill that we don’t realize are recyclable?  Maybe.  We are probably all guilty of “the convenience factor” of throwing something away instead of holding onto it or storing it until we get near a recycling bin.  It would be interesting to see what would happen to these numbers if there were recycling containers next to garbage cans all over town.
It is important, however, that we understand that even though these recycling statistics seem low, these recovery rates are quite impressive considering what they were just thirty years ago. “Over the last few decades, the generation, recycling, composting, and disposal of MSW have changed substantially. While solid waste generation has increased from 3.66 to 4.43 pounds per person per day between 1980 and 2010, the recycling rate has also increased–from less than 10 percent of MSW generated in 1980 to about 34 percent in 2010. Disposal of waste to a landfill has decreased from 89 percent of the amount generated in 1980 to about 54 percent of MSW in 2010.”*

  • “Forests are being cut and trees are being felled at an unimaginable rate of 100  acres per minute. All this to produce paper which is normally used and disposed without much thought.


  • A plant takes a minimum of 15 to 20 years to grow into a tree, but takes less than ten minutes to be felled, and on an average one tree can yield about 700 paper grocery bags, which will be consumed in less than an hour by a supermarket!


  • Almost every hour, nearly 250,000 plastic bottles are dumped. It is not surprising that plastic bottles constitute close to 50% of recyclable waste in the dumps.


  • The average time taken by plastic bottles to decompose in a landfill is close to 700 years.


  • Glass is one of the very few products that can be completely recycled again and again. But most often times, it ends up in landfills and never decomposes.


  • World-famous chocolate manufacturer, Hershey Chocolate Company, in manufacturing 20,000,000 Hershey’s kisses (every day), uses about 133 square miles of aluminum to wrap the chocolates. This aluminum wrap is recyclable, but most of this recyclable aluminum reaches the trash cans instead of recycle bins, because people often enjoy the chocolate but don’t think about the recyclable aluminum wrap!


  • One of the materials that is easiest and fastest to recycle is aluminum. Aluminum cans can be recycled and reused within 60 days.”**

Hopefully the surprising statistics above at least give some insight into why Americans should forget the “convenience factor” and recycle...recycle....recycle!  If you’re not sure if an item is recyclable, you can visit our website at and click on the Recycling Questions tab.  You will get quick, personalized responses every time.  Waste-Away Group is dedicated to recycling education.