Recycling: The Stats

Recycling in action

If you’re looking for the statistics behind recycling, the UN has a wealth of information about recycling worldwide. There are wide differences in the rate of recycling from country to country. Some countries, such as South Korea and Singapore, recycle almost half of their waste. Other countries, such as Belgium, Denmark, and Austria compost huge amounts of waste. Between composting and recycling, Austria cleanly disposes of more than 70% of all its solid trash!

In the United States, we don’t do nearly that well (although we continue to improve from the 2005 figures shown on the UN’s chart). The Environmental Protection Agency studies Municipal Solid Waste and issues a yearly report about our progress. In 2006, about a third of all solid waste generated in the US was recycled.

If you’re wondering how you compare to the average, well, the average person creates about 4.6 pounds of solid waste every day. Do you produce more or less than that? How much trash do you recycle, compared to how much you produce?

Some types of waste are easier to recycle than others:

In 2006, paper and paperboard recovery rose to over 50 percent (44 million tons), while metals were recycled at a rate of just over 36 percent, and 62 percent of yard trimmings were recovered. (See Figure 3.) By recycling nearly 7 million tons of metals (which includes aluminum, steel, and mixed metals), we eliminated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions totaling close to 6.5 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE). This is equivalent to removing more than 5 million cars from the road for one year. All benefit calculations such as these are derived from EPA’s WAste Reduction Model (WARM).

More than 31 million tons (12.5 percent) of materials were combusted with energy recovery, and about 138 million tons (55 percent) were discarded in landfills. Recycling 82 million tons of MSW saved the energy equivalent of more than 10 billion gallons of gasoline.

You can boost the amount that you recycle by focusing on a few easy changes. There’s no need to give away all of your possessions and move to a commune – you can start small! Just recycling all of your soda cans and bottles can have a huge impact:

California – a case study in recycling beverage containers

California has had a lot of success in recycling drinking bottles and cans. In 2007, the state recycled approximately 67% of all water, soda, and beer bottles sold. The success comes, in part, from a 5 cent rebate for each bottle that gets recycled. About 80% of all bottle and can recycling occurred due to the rebate program.

In 2007, Californians recycled 122,000 tons of aluminum; 616,000 tons of glass; and 185,000 tons of plastic beverage containers in 2007.

All of that material is waste that was kept out of landfills as well as raw material that didn’t have to be mined, refined, or transported.