Getting the Statistics and Facts About Recycling
Third in the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra, is taking materials and turning them into something new, a necessity in today’s resource-intensive culture. And although it is not ultimately a solution to our environmental problems (reducing and reusing are the first lines of defense), recycling is an important activity for all of us! Not only does it benefit local economies and create jobs, recycling efforts help to reduce pollution, cut the quantity of virgin natural resources extracted from the planet, reduces energy and water consumption, minimizes greenhouse gas emissions, and more.
We've compiled this list of recycling facts not to scare you but to shed light on the problem. Sometimes numbers and facts tend to lead us to action. We think you will be amazed by what you will read below.
Electronic waste recycling facts and statistics:
Electronic waste (e-waste) includes things like CRT monitors, computers, TVs, laptops, cell phones, printers, cartridges, and toner, computer peripherals (keyboards, mice, etc), radios, light bulbs containing heavy metals, CDs and DVDs, zip disks and tapes, alarm clocks, cameras, and anything with computerized components.
- The average American household has at least 24 electronic products.
- E-waste can contain more than 1,000 components, many of which are toxic, including brominated flame retardants, PVC, gases, heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium), and more.
- Generally the original owner of a laptop will keep it only three years before it is tossed. Cell phones last 24 months or less.
- Greater than 85% of all e-waste goes unrecycled, with over 3 million tons entering the waste stream in 2008 alone.
- These electronics are not designed to be recycled - they are difficult to take apart and many of the materials simply cannot be recycled at this point.
- All of the E-waste recycled in the US every year amounts to more than 100 million pounds of materials, including plastics, metals, glass, and other materials.
Check out Ecolife's e-waste recycling section to learn more about this type of recycling.
Glass recycling facts and statistics:
Glass comes in many forms, but most consumer sources are from food containers and the like. Some types of glass are not generally recycled because they contaminate a batch of cullet (the glass used for recycled products), including window glass, mirrors, clay pots, ceramic dishes, drinking glasses, and light bulbs.
- Glass makes up almost 5% of all municipal solid waste (MSW) in the US.
- About 22% of all glass containers are recycled annually in the US.
- Making glass from recycled materials reduces energy (glass furnaces are quite energy-intensive), and reduces the need for raw materials such as limestone, soda ash, and sand.
Learn more about this topic through our glass recycling section.
Hazardous waste recycling facts and statistics:
Household hazardous waste (HHW) can include many items, such as vehicle fluids (fuels, oils, antifreeze, thinners, etc), household paint, cleaning products, acids, bases, heavy metals (batteries, e-waste, etc), pool chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, and more. When improperly trashed (sent to landfills or poured down storm drains), these materials can lead to serious human health and environmental damage.
- Annually, Americans dispose of 1.6 million tons of HHW, with about 100 pounds of the stuff sitting in most average residential basements.
- Chemicals buried in landfills can reach dangerous concentration levels over time, leading to air, water, and soil contamination, rendering areas unfit for living, drinking water unfit for consumption, and so on.
- Instead of refining crude oil, re-refining used vehicular oils uses between 50% and 85% less energy, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces our dependency on foreign oil.
Be smart and check out our hazardous waste recycling section.
Metal recycling facts and statistics:
There are many types of metals in our waste stream, but most commonly we’re concerned about recycling aluminum and steel. Many types of aluminum can be recycled, including soda cans, pie plates, lawn chairs, window frames, auto parts, residential siding, food cans, and foil wrap. Steel also comes in many forms - food containers, car bodies, appliances, residential and commercial building frames, railroad ties, and much more.
- Of all the waste in the MSW stream in the US, 8.4% is metal.
- Using scrap aluminum to make new cans consumes 95% less energy than making them from raw bauxite ore. Recycling one ton of aluminum cans saves the equivalent of 1,665 gallons of gasoline.
- Aluminum can be recycled infinitely without losing quality and the value it provides generally covers the cost required to collect and recycle it.
- About 35% of all metals that are thrown away get recycled in the US, and what was recycled saved 25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions - that’s like taking 4.5 million cars off of the road for one year.
- All new steel products contain a minimum of 25% recycled content.
- The energy saved by the steel industry through the use of recycled materials saves enough energy to power 18 million homes for a year.
To learn more about metal recycling check out our related section: Metal Recycling.
Food and yard waste recycling facts and statistics:
The contents of your trash that can be recycled aren't limited to plastics, metal, glass, and paper. Organics, including yard clippings, food waste, wood, and other biodegradable materials are all recyclable through composting, whether in your own worm bin or backyard compost pile or in a commercial composting facility. And though it might seem perfectly harmless to throw organics in the trash can (at least they’ll break down, unlike plastics, right?), they actually create serious environmental problems when sent to the landfill. Find out more here:
- Yard trimmings and food scraps make up 26% of the MSW stream in the US. Wood waste comprises about 6.6% of the trash.
- As food waste decomposes in an anaerobic (oxygen deprived) environment, it produces a greenhouse gas called methane which is at least 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its ability to trap heat in our atmosphere.
- When organics are put into a landfill, they create leachate, which is a liquid that becomes contaminated with toxins and heavy metals, which then work their way into groundwater and soil.
- By switching from synthetic fertilizers and soil amendments to compost for treating gardens and lawns, your home can save more than $50 while building healthier soil.
Check out our composting section to learn more about this subject.
Paper recycling facts and statistics:
Although we may have hailed electronic communications as a solution for our paper-focused society, to date, we have not yet accomplished a completely paperless society. Until then, recycling paper is important for protecting forests - those vital ecosystems on which we all depend. Forests are necessary for filtering air and water, reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, providing habitat for most of the world’s land-dwelling animals, protecting soil from erosion, and much more.
- Paper makes up 31% of the average MSW in the US.
- The average person (adults and children included) recycles about 340 pounds of paper waste every year. Recycled paper can be used to create newsprint, tissue, boxboard, containerboard, and other paper products.
- By producing a ton of paper from recycled materials, energy consumption is cut in half and 17 trees are saved.
To learn more about this topic, read our paper recycling section.
Plastic recycling facts and statistics:
Last on this list but by no means harmless, plastics are fast becoming a huge portion of our waste stream. They are made with petrochemicals and other harmful chemicals, and when thrown into the landfill fail to break down quickly. Recycling is therefore the best method for dealing with plastics.
- The average residential trash bin will be filled with approximately 12% plastics.
- Only 5.2% of all plastic waste is recovered in the US every year. Of that, the material recycled is primarily PET (polyethylene termpephthalate used for soda and water bottles) and HDPE (high density polyethylene used for milk and laundry detergent bottles).
- The average plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to dissolve in the environment, and Americans throw away approximately 200 million every year. Worldwide, humans waste 4 billion plastic bags annually.
- Recycled plastics can be used to create carpeting and clothing, new containers, pipes, lawn and garden products, plastic lumber, film plastics, moldings, and more.
Learn more about recycling plastic by reading Ecolife's plastic recycling section.
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12 (Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, And Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008)
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14 (Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, And Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008)
16 (Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, And Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008)
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19 (Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, And Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008)
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21 Organic materials in the landfill threaten groundwater. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2010, from Grassroots Recycling Network: http://www.grrn.org/landfill/notrenewableenergy/technicalbackground.html#groundwater
22 (Organic materials in the landfill threaten groundwater)
23 (Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, And Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008)
24 (Paper & the environment)
25 Paper Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2010, from Purdue University: http://www.purdue.edu/envirosoft/housewaste/src/paper.htm
26 (Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, And Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008)
28 San Francisco bans traditional plastic grocery bags. (2007, March 28). Retrieved June 27, 2010, from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2007/03/28/sanfrancisco-plastic.html
29 The Numbers…Believe It or Not. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2010, from Reusable Bags: http://www.reusablebags.com/facts.php?id=4
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