Recycling Facts and Figures

A look at the industry by the numbers

Man with kids in sports uniforms filling recycling tubs
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Recycling initiatives are a key part of efforts to reduce consumption and enhance the preservation of our natural resources. The recycling industry faces many headwinds as the price for scrap falls and the public becomes apathetic to the continued effort.

The EPA regularly tracks a bevy of facts and figures to report on how these initiatives are going in the U.S. These statistics from the 2018 report provide a snapshot of recycling efforts as of 2015.

General Recycling and Waste Management Facts

  • According to the EPA, in 2015 alone, about 262 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) were generated in the United States. More than 91 million tons of that amount (around 34.7%) were recycled and composted. Around 137 million tons (52.5%) of the remaining amount were sent to landfills and 33 million tons (12.8%) were incinerated. In 2015, 68 million tons of MSW were recycled, or just over one-quarter of total MSW.
  • In 2010, total MSW in the U.S. amounted to 251.1 million tons. 85.4 million tons of that (34.0%) were recycled

Plastic Recycling Stats

  • In 2015, plastics comprised about 13% of total MSW. The total plastic waste was 34.5 million tons, of which only 3.14 million tons were recycled. So, the plastic recycling rate in 2015 was only 9.1%. 75.4% of total plastic MSW was sent to landfills.
  • Around 66% of energy can be saved by producing plastic products from recycled plastics instead of virgin materials. 
  • Between1,000 and 2,000 gallons of gasoline can be saved recycling just one ton of plastic.
  • Every hour, Americans use approximately 2.5 million plastic bottles. And most of these are thrown away.
  • Annually, approximately 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups are thrown away in America.

Electronic Waste Recycling Facts

  • In 2015, around 39.8% (1.2 million tons) of total electronic waste was recycled. Back in 2010, the e-waste recycling rate was just 10%.
  • Every year, between 20 miliion and 50 million metric tons of electronic waste are disposed around the world.
  • Electronic waste represents 2% of the waste stream discarded in American landfills, but it equals around 70% of toxic waste.  
  • It takes 1.5 tons of water, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 539 pounds of fossil fuel to produce just one computer.

Textile Recycling Statistics

  • In 2015, 16.03 million tons of textile wastes were generated in the U.S., of which only 2.45 million tons (15.8%) were recycled.
  • The average lifetime of a cloth is approximately 3 years. And nearly 100% of textiles and clothing are recyclable.
  • The U.S. textile recycling industry removes approximately 2.5 billion pounds of post-consumer textiles each year from the waste stream, and the industry creates more than 17,000 jobs.
  • Consumers who throw away their used clothing are considered the main offenders. Only 15% of post-consumer clothing is recycled, while textile and clothing manufacturers recycle more than 75% of clothing.

Paper Recycling Facts

  • In 2015, paper and paperboard constituted about 26% of total MSW, while wood constituted another 6.2%.
  • Out of 68.05 million tons of paper and paperboard waste generated in 2015, around 45.32 million tons—or two-thirds of it — was recycled. Only 26.9% of paper and paperboard waste was landfilled. 
  • Air pollution from paper production can be lessened by 73% if papers are produced from recycled products instead of virgin materials.
  • Every year, roughly 1 billion trees worth of paper are discarded in the U.S.
  • By weight, paper accounts for more than 50% of all recyclable waste collected in the U.S.

Glass Recycling Stats

  • In 2015, glass accounted for over 4% of total waste generated in the U.S. 11.5 million tons of glass waste were generated and around one-quarter was recycled.
  • 100% of all types of glasses are recyclable without losing purity or quality.
  • More than a ton of natural resources can be saved by recycling a ton of glass.
  • Recycling a thousand tons of glass can create jobs for eight individuals.
  • Glass that is thrown away in landfills never decomposes.

Metal Recycling Facts

  • In 2015, metal constituted over 9% of MSW generated in the U.S. 24 million tons of metal waste was generated and just over 8.2 million tons (34%) were recycled in that year.
  • Recycling just one aluminum can save sufficient energy to run a television set for around 3 hours or burn one 100-watt bulb for 4 hours.
  • 20 recycled aluminum cans can be produced with the energy required to produce just one aluminum can using virgin ore.
  • According to the Aluminum Association, 64.3% of aluminum beverage containers — 56.8 billion containers — were recycled in the U.S. in 2015.
  • Using recycled copper in copper processing saves 85% to 90% of energy compared to using new copper from virgin ore.

Auto Recycling Statistics

  • Each year, the Automotive Recycling Industry in North America saves roughly 85 million barrels of oil from being used in the production of new or replacement automobile parts.
  • Each year, the worldwide auto recycling industry recycles more than 25 million tons of waste materials, which are collected from out-of-order cars.
  • According to reports, automobiles are the most recycled consumer products.
  • Currently 80% of discarded cars are recycled. The remaining 20% can’t be recycled.

Other Recycling Facts

As per the Deconstruction Institute, every year, the U.S. building deconstruction and demolition industry produces around 125 million tons of debris that go to landfills, and only 2% of total building material waste is recycled. As all of these statistics show, there is clearly still a lot of work to be done to improve our recycling efforts.