Recycling by the Numbers: The Good, Bad and Ugly of Statistics and Comparisons

By the numbers, here is where the United States stands in its recycling effort. Not the best, not the worst.

Just making a quick assessment based on these digits — maybe the U.S. has earned a C (with a curve applied, perhaps).

Good job, Austria. Pick up the pace, Greece. And let’s all keep plugging away. The numbers may be lower than some of us would like, but they register continuing increases. Americans are recycling more than ever before; we’re on an up-swing.

251 million – tons of trash in the United States

82 million – tons of materials recycled in the United States

53.4 – percentage of all paper products recycled in the United States

32.5 – percentage of total waste that is recycled in the United States

100 – approximate percentage of increase in total recycling in the United States during the past decade

60 – approximate amount of total recycling in Austria, the leading recycler in the European Union

10 – percentage of total recycling in Greece

8,660 – number of curbside recycling programs in the United States in 2006

8,875 – number of curbside recycling programs in the United States in 2003

6 – weeks it takes to manufacture, fill, sell, recycle and re-manufacture an aluminum beverage can
95 – percentage of energy saved by recycling an aluminum can, compared with manufacturing a new one
4.6 – pounds of trash per person per day in the United States (most in the world)
1.5 – pounds of recycled materials per person per day in the United States

Related posts:
Reduce, Reuse & Recycle Your Way to Lower Overhead
What Do You Do About the Waste? Recycle and Reuse.
Mini Extreme Recycling: What Are You Doing?
Recycling Soon to Be Mandatory in San Francisco
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Municipal Solid Waste Generation Statistics and Figures
United States Recycling Statistics (Green Living)
Garbage Statistics and Studies – LaPorte County (Ind.) Solid Waste District

Written by adamwilliams


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  1. Can you tell me if these are annual statistics? In other words, does this mean there are 251 tons of trash in the US every year?

  2. @Valarie — the number 251 million tons of trash is for one year, not necessarily every year.

    looking at the “United States Recycling Statistics (Green Living)” link under Sources above, the number given for 2005 was 246 million tons, and it was 248 million tons of trash in 2004.

  3. I think that the numbers are shocking. Recycling should not be a choice. Why should doing the right thing by reusing something be a choice? Well I think that non-recyclers are conceited. I’m not judging them all but when they say that recyclers just recycle to feel good- so what? As long as it helps the planet and supports the cause what does it matter? The main and only reason people don’t recycle is because of laziness. Which doesn’t make sense because it is the same process as throwing your trash away, putting it in a bin. I hope this changes at least one person’s non-recycling habbits.

  4. let me enlighten you

    current recycling methods are horrible.

    first of all, landfills are not horrible. they are protected, and after they are filled, the ground above them are turned into parks.

    second, recycling plastic is useless. they turn used plastic into shopping bags, t-shirts, and shoelaces. they can’t make other plastic bottles with old plastic bottles. the plastic loses it’s properties when it is melted down, so it has to becom a lesser plastic.

    recycling paper is also useless. the energy that companies use to shred the paper, blach it, then make it into new paper, is more harmful for the environment than just throwing it away.

    alluminum cans, are okay to recycle. it can made into other cans. it’s actually 95% turnover from a can. good stuff.

    also, these recycling “efforts” cost taxpayers $8 billion a year. for something that makes our environment, worse.

    well then, people say, doesn’t it help create jobs? yes. terrible, smelly jobs that could be avoided if we just threw the garbage away in landfills.

    well, what about landfill space? just to put it in perspective, it has been calculated that at 35 mi by 35 mi landfill would hold all of the u.s.’s trash for the next 1,000 years. i’m not suggesting we build a giant landfill, but, that’s not a very significant space on in the u.s., let alone on the earth.

    so, aren’t landfills gross and they are “bad” because they leak and stuff. no. the chance of a landfill being unsafe is remarkably small, and that’s because the government regulates it. also, see “first of all” at the top of this enlightenment.

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