Ever wondered if recycling actually helps the planet? Recycling statistics help us understand the impact and much more. 

Did you know that the US discards enough aluminum a year to rebuild its air fleet four times? Unfortunately, the country only recycles 21.4% of all its waste.

Most Americans don’t know enough about recycling and why we need it so desperately. Here’s the most interesting and crucial information.

Little Known Recycling Facts

  • Landfills are made up of 80% recyclable material. 
  • Recycling one aluminum can could power a TV for three hours.
  • In 2018, there were 292.4 million tons of solid waste in the US. 
  • Americans throw away 151 million phones every year, or about 416,000 a day. 
  • Annually, the US discards 16 billion diapers. 
  • The US throws enough aluminum a year to rebuild its air fleet four times.
  • Before 2018, China took in 95% of the EU’s plastic for recycling.
  • Germany has had the highest recycling rate since 2016 — 56.1%. 
  • There are about 25 trillion plastic pieces in the ocean. 

Recycling Facts and Statistics

Let’s explore some interesting facts about recycling. 

1. US Recycling Makes up 21.4% of All Waste.

(Source: Recycle Across America) 

  • In mining and manufacturing of materials, recycling can conserve about 95% of clean water. That’s crucial because 780 million people worldwide don’t have access to clean water sources.
  • US recycling hasn’t improved in 20 years, even though it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry.
  • The US generates more waste than any other country. It only represents 5% of the world’s population but produces 40% of its waste

But that’s not all. Let’s look at more interesting recycling facts.

2. Recycling One Aluminum Can Could Power a TV for Three Hours.

(Source: The Green Team) 

  • One recycled glass bottle can power a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. 
  • One ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees. The US uses 67 million tons of paper each year, or close to four million trees.
  • Sadly, Americans receive 4.5 million tons of junk mail a year, 44% of which is never opened.

But what more recycling statistics do we know?

3. Landfills Are Made up of 80% Recyclable Material.

(Source: Rubicon)

  • In 2018, the US produced 292.4 million tons of solid waste. 
  • Surprisingly, 12.11% of it was yard trimmings.
  • Wood was also higher on the list, making up 6.19% of waste. 

Now, let’s check what goes on in the recycling industry.

Scrap yard with trash piled up under a blue sky with clouds

Recycling Industry Statistics

The industry is massive, and yet its impact is still small.

4. The Recycling Industry in the US Is Worth $200 Billion.

(Source: Recycle Across America)

  • Recycling generates between 7–10 more jobs than landfills.
  • Paper had the largest share of the market in 2019 — 41.4%.
  • 12% of all plastic is reused or recycled per year. By 2030, plastic waste is expected to reach 4,560 million tons. 

Let’s look deeper into the US stats. 

US Recycling Statistics

As the most significant waste contributor, the US has a lot to answer for.

5. Discarded Electronics Are Responsible for 40% of Heavy Metals in US Landfills.

(Source: Earth911) 

  • Americans throw away 151 million phones every year. That’s about 416,000 a day. 
  • The US generates about seven million tons of e-waste. In 2019, the country recycled only 15% of it. 
  • Each year the US discards 16 billion diapers

But that’s not all. Are you ready for more US waste statistics?

6. The US Discards Enough Aluminium a Year to Rebuild Its Air Fleet Four Times.

(Source: University of Southern Indiana)

  • A 1,045-foot trash heap is the highest point in Hamilton County, Ohio. It’s called Mount Rumpke. 
  • For every $10 spent, $1 is on the packaging we throw away, accounting for 65% of household trash.
  • Every year the US discards two billion razor blades.

It’s not just the US. Let’s explore the matter worldwide.

Large dumpster overflowing with trash in a green field

World Recycling Statistics

Recycling happens worldwide, but some do it more than others. 

7. Before 2018, China Took in 95% of the EU’s Plastic for Recycling.

(Source: Wired)

  • China banned the EU’s and 70% of US plastic in 2018. It needed to because 90% of the country’s water system was contaminated.
  • Between 3.75–10.72 million tons of e-waste were shipped to developing countries in 2019, causing massive environmental issues. 
  • US e-waste contaminated Guiyu, China, incredibly severely. About 80% of children in the area had lead poisoning

How are the recycling rates by country?

8. Germany Has Had the Highest Recycling Rate Since 2016 — 56.1%. 

(Source: NS Packaging) 

  • Austria comes in second, with a recycling rate of 53.8%.
  • South Korea is third with 53.7%. It’s the only non-EU nation in the top five.
  • Unfortunately, despite all efforts, the UN predicts that e-waste alone will increase by 39% by 2030, which would be 74.7 million tons a year. 

Now that we know more about recycling in different areas, let’s explore the significant products to blame. 

Plastic Recycling Statistics 

Plastic is among the top contributors to global waste. But how bad is it? 

9. There Are About 25 Trillion Plastic Pieces in the Ocean. 

(Source: Rubicon)

  • Over 100,000 marine life die every year from plastic, either through ingestion or entanglement.
  • We produce enough plastic wrap every year to wrap the state of Texas.
  • The energy to produce 1.5 million tons of plastic could power 250,000 homes. 

We wish that were all, but we should discuss the plastic bottle recycling statistics.

 10. Every Hour, Americans Throw Away 2.5 Million Plastic Bottles. 

(Source: The Green Team)

  • That’s enough plastic to circle the Earth four times every year — 22 billion bottles per year.
  • One ton of recycled plastic bottles can power a two-person home for an entire year. 
  • It takes 500 years for one plastic bottle to decompose. 

That’s why we encourage everyone to invest in a reusable bottle for daily use. Also, you can get a portable bottle for your dog, too.

It’s not just plastic. Let’s look at other materials. 

Paper Recycling Statistics

So, we know paper is leading the recycling industry, but what else?

11. One Tree Can Filter About 60 Pounds of Air Pollutants Annually. 

(Source: The Green Team)

  • Air pollution is a massive problem for our breathing and cell development. What’s more, it’s linked to cancer and respiratory illnesses like asthma. One in 10 deaths is due to air pollution exposure. To decrease your risk, we recommend investing in a quality air purifier.  
  • Recycling statistics show that 500,000 trees are wasted as Americans throw away 90% of Sunday newspapers. Recycling a three-foot-high stack of newspapers saves a tree. 
  • Every year, the US discards enough office paper to build a twelve-foot-high wall from Seattle to New York — that’s about 2,800 miles.

So, now that we know more about plastic and paper recycling, what’s going on with glass?

Lots of white dirty paper cups scattered around over dirt

Glass Recycling Statistics

12. Glass Can Be Recycled and Remanufactured Endlessly.

(Source: Glass Packaging Institute)

  • For every ton of recycled glass, we save over a ton of natural resources. 
  • Recycling one glass jar can power an 11-watt light bulb for 11 hours. 
  • Every 1,000 tons of recycled glass create about eight jobs

While shocking, these stats are nothing compared to the clothing industry.

Textile Recycling Statistics

The textile industry worldwide is massive, and this creates a serious problem for our planet. 

 13. Each American Throws Away Around 82 Lbs of Textile Every Year.

(Source: Planet Aid) 

  • That’s 11 million tons of waste in the US alone.
  • Surprisingly, it takes 700 gallons of water to make one cotton shirt. That’s enough to hydrate one person for 900 days. Meanwhile, many don’t have that luxury.
  • Clothes take up to 40 years to decompose in a landfill. 

But let’s delve a bit deeper.

14. US Landfill Statistics Show Shoes Take 1,000 Years to Decompose.

(Source: Planet Aid) 

  • 95% of clothing can be recycled, so we need to do all we can to get it to the right place. 
  • In 2018, 2.5 million tons of textile were recycled. That’s the same as removing about 1.2 million cars from the road.
  • Despite the improving numbers of recycled textile, more ends up in landfills. In 2010, there were 8,900 tons of discarded fabric, but in 2018, the number soared to 11,300 tons.

An interesting aspect to consider is different sectors and how much they contribute to recycling. 

College Recycling Statistics

It turns out that colleges contribute a significant amount of waste.

15. In One Year, 52 Schools Generated 56,000 Tons of Waste in North Carolina.

(Source: North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality) 

  • 63% was sent to a landfill, and 37% was reused or recycled. 
  • One college student averages 640 pounds of waste every year. 
  • Most universities and colleges have recycling programs. In Connecticut, recycling is mandatory by law

But it’s not just recycling that can make a difference. 

Composting Statistics

Composting is a great way to remove food waste, let’s have a look at how we’re doing. 

16. In 2018, 2.6 Million Tons of Food Was Composted in the US.

(Source: EPA)

  • That’s equivalent to around 4% of all wasted food. 
  • Composting allowed Americans to recover 25 million tons of waste in 2018.
  • Curbside collection for composting served 6.1 million US homes in 2017.

So, why should you recycle?

Why Is Recycling Important Facts

Recycling does a lot for our planet. For instance, it:

  • Reduces our environmental impact
  • Creates jobs
  • Helps save endangered species
  • Keeps our air breathable
  • Reduces ocean waste
  • Saves our trees
  • Reduces the need for raw materials
  • Requires less energy. 

We need 95% less energy to reuse aluminum than create new.

But what can you do to help?

How to Help Recycling Statistics in 2022

Consider incorporating small habits like these into your everyday life:

  • Speak up and share information on environmental issues and the importance of recycling.
  • Recycle, reuse, and compost where you can.
  • Create a drop-off site.
  • Organize recycle drives in your area.
  • Don’t just look at your own impact. Consider your four-legged friend, too. For instance, using artificial turf for dogs can save a lot of water. Plus, it’s low maintenance.
  • Donate old clothes or sell them.
  • Don’t throw old electronics in the trash. 

Wrap Up

Recycling statistics are essential to understand so we can reduce our environmental impact.

Numerous studies have shown Americans don’t recycle because they don’t understand the effect it has.

The more we can educate the people around us on the bigger picture, the more chances we have of saving our planet. 


How much trash is in the world?

We throw away a staggering 2.12 billion tons of waste a year. That’s enough to circle the world 24 times. While landfills are terrible, things in the ocean are about to hit the point of no return. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a 617,763-mile long plastic island between Hawaii and California. 

What percentage of trash is recyclable?

75% of US waste is recyclable. Sadly, only 30% is recycled. Over 87% of Americans have access to either drop-off paper or curbside recycling programs. There’s no excuse anymore not to do it. Besides, if we all started composting today, it would be the same as removing two million cars from the road in a year. 

How much waste does the US produce?

Every year, Americans throw 139.6 tons of waste into landfills. The highest is food, with 30.63 million tons every year, followed by plastic with 26.82 million tons, and paper — 18.35 million tons. All three can be composted or recycled, yet they make up the most trash.  

How much recyclable material is thrown away?

91% of plastic isn’t recycled. All this plastic ends up in landfills and our ocean. Recycling statistics show that if things don’t change drastically, there will be 12 billion tons of plastic in landfills by 2050. That doesn’t include any of the other waste materials. 

  1. Recycle Across America
  2. The Green Team
  3. Rubicon
  4. Earth911
  5. University of Southern Indiana
  6. Wired
  7. NS Packaging
  8. Glass Packaging Institute
  9. Planet Aid
  10. North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality 
  11. EPA
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