Recycling Statistics (2023)

Recycling Statistics

In this article, we will cover interesting recycling statistics such as waste production and recycling rates in the United States. We’ll also take a global perspective, comparing countries to see which are leading recyclers. Here’s a look at the topics we will cover in depth:

Key Recycling Statistics

  • The average American generates 4.9 pounds of trash per day.
  • Around one-third (32%) of waste in America is recycled or composted.

32% of waste in the United States is recycled

  • In 1960 the U.S. recycled or composted less than 7% of its waste, meaning the recycling rate is up 457% since then.
  • As of 2018, 23.6% of municipal waste in the U.S. was recycled and 8.5% was composted.
  • 94% of Americans have some sort of recycling program available to them.
  • Slovenia (76.64%) and Germany (69.32%) are leaders around the world when it comes to the percentage of their waste composted or recycled.

How Much Waste Do Americans Produce?

The U.S. generated 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2018. This comes out to 4.9 pounds of waste per person every day.

Breakdown by Type of Waste

Over half of the waste in America can be attributed to paper, food, and yard trimmings. Here’s a breakdown of the waste in America by category.

U.S. Waste by Category - Pie Chart

How Many People Recycle?

Here are some statistics that illustrate how many people recycle and recycling program access in the U.S.

  • Around one-third (32%) of waste in America is recycled or composted.
  • 28% of Americans live in an area where recycling is strongly encouraged, and 48% live in an area where it is encouraged to recycle but not a big concern.
  • 94% of Americans have some sort of recycling program available to them.
  • 73% of Americans have access to curbside collection recycling programs.
  • 21% of Americans have access to drop-off-only recycling programs.
  • In populated areas, curbside collection programs are popular. 93% of people living in cities and towns of 125,000 people or more have access to curbside collection programs.

Recycling Facts by Category

Here are some interesting recycling facts and statistics based on materials and types of waste.

Plastic Recycling Facts

  • Of the 38 million tons of plastic waste in the U.S. every year, only 5-6% gets recycled.
  • Around 36% of plastic produced is made to create packaging.
  • 85% of the plastic waste from packaging ends up in landfills.
  • People throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour in the U.S.
  • It takes around 450 years for a plastic bottle to degrade.

Paper Recycling Facts

  • Of the 79 million tons of paper waste in the U.S. every year, around 63% gets recycled.
  • Paper is typically the most recycled material in the U.S. and accounts for half of all materials recycled by weight.
  • Almost half of the paper that gets recycled is used to make cardboard boxes.
  • 91.4% of cardboard in the U.S. was recycled in 2021.

Metal Recycling Facts

  • Aluminum can be infinitely recycled and accounts for just 1% of the waste in the U.S.
  • Recycling one ton of steel saves 1.5 tons of iron ore and reduces CO2 emissions by 80% compared to making steel from scratch.
  • Producing aluminum cans using recycled metal requires only 5% of the energy needed compared to using "primary" metal.
  • Aluminum takes 200-500 years to degrade in a landfill.
  • An average aluminum contains about 73% recycled material compared to 23% for glass bottles.
  • A ton of recycled aluminum is worth over $1,200, much more than recycled plastic ($237), and glass ($21).
  • Aluminum cans are the largest single-use of aluminum around the world, which uses about 180 billion aluminum cans every year.

Glass Recycling Facts

  • Glass is one of the cheapest and most efficient materials to recycle.
  • Glass bottles are fully recyclable and can be reused endlessly without losing quality.
  • Around 110 million glass bottles are consumed in the U.S. each day.
  • 39.6% of beer and soft drink bottles are recovered for recycling.

Electronic Waste Recycling Facts

  • When not disposed of properly, e-waste can release harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
  • Americans had 6.92 million tons of e-waste in 2019, of which only around 15% was properly recycled.
  • E-waste is the fastest-growing source of waste globally.

Food Waste Recycling Facts

  • The EPA estimates that 66 million tons of food waste was generated in the U.S. in 2019.
  • Around 60% of food waste is sent to landfills.
  • The U.S. wastes the equivalent of 138 billion meals per year, more food than any other country in the world.
  • Food is the single largest component taking up space inside U.S. landfills.
  • Food waste around the world generates around 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.

U.S. Recycling Rates Over Time

From 1960 to today, the U.S. increased its rate of recycling and composting from just 6.4% to over 32%. This means that over the past 60 years, the U.S. has seen a 4.5x improvement in its recycling rate. Most of this improvement occurred between 1970 and 2010. Here’s a historical breakdown of recycling rates in the U.S.

U.S. Recycling Rates Over Time

Since 2010, recycling rates have leveled off between 30-35%. As of 2018, 23.6% of municipal waste in the U.S. was recycled and 8.5% was composted for a total of 32.1%, down slightly from 2015. In the next section, we’ll look at how the U.S. compares to other countries around the world in terms of recycling.

Which Countries Are the Best at Recycling?

Countries around the world range from recycling and composting less than 10% of their waste on the low end to over 75% on the high end. Slovenia (76.64%) and Germany (69.32%) are leaders when it comes to recycling, while Costa Rica (6.6%) and Turkey (12.3%) are lagging.

Here’s an overview of various country's recycling rates around the world to give a general idea of how common recycling is around the world.

Global Recycling Rates by Country

Here's a table of global recyling rates:

CountryRecycling Rates
Slovenia 76.6%
Germany 69.3%
South Korea 59.7%
Austria 59.1%
Netherlands 57.7%
Italy 55.4%
Luxembourg 55.2%
Switzerland 52.8%
Belgium 52.0%
Slovakia 48.5%
Lithuania 46.2%
Australia 44.4%
France 44.4%
United Kingdom 43.1%
Czech Republic 42.4%
Latvia 40.3%
Poland 40.2%
Sweden 39.4%
Norway 38.3%
Spain 38.0%
Ireland 37.9%
Finland 37.1%
Hungary 35.0%
Denmark 33.3%
United States 32.1%
Portugal 30.4%
Estonia 30.1%
Israel 22.2%
Greece 21.0%
Japan 19.6%
Turkey 12.3%
Costa Rica 6.6%

In comparison to the countries examined, the U.S. falls slightly below the average, however, this is just a random sample of countries.

For example, Africa is very much behind the rest of the world when it comes to recycling. An estimated 70-80% of waste generated in Africa is recyclable yet only 4% was recycled as of 2018.


Recycling efforts in the U.S. have significantly improved, with the recycling rate soaring by an impressive 457% since 1960.

Globally, countries like Slovenia and Germany lead the way in waste recycling and composting, providing inspiring examples for the world to follow.

With continued commitment and awareness, we can strive for an even more sustainable future, reducing waste and preserving our planet for generations to come.

For more research about things that affect homeowners, get more real estate stats.


Environmental Protection Agency

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development


UN Environment Program

Pew Research Center

Recycling Today

Glass Packaging Institute

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