Current United States Recycling Statistics

Current United States Recycling Statistics

Something important to know when talking about recycling is Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), better known as trash. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fact sheet takes into account the MSW statistics each year when computing national recycling figures.

Includes common household throw-away items such as food scraps, package wrapping, grass clippings and even bigger items like an old microwave, sofa, or refrigerator. In relation to recycling statistics, MSW does not include items such as hazardous, industrial, or construction waste.

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Compostable Organic Waste Recovery

Compostable organic waste is the largest component of MSW, it makes up to one-third to half of the MSW according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

In the ILSR survey of 33 of 50 states provided data on quantities of compost production amounting to 19.43 MT. Seventy percent of this was yard trimmings. Food scraps, biosolids, agricultural waste including manure were some of the other main items. The EPA fact sheet estimate for the whole nation is 22 MT.

The five largest recyclers of compostable waste in 2013 were California (5.9 MT), Florida (1.5 MT), Iowa (1.3 MT), Washington State (1.2 MT) and New York (1.0 MT). There were 4,914 composting operators in U.S., each with different capacities, and on an average they produced “only 5,155 tons/facility/year” which the ILSR finds is low.

Statistics by Waste Component

Recovery of waste by the type of waste is also tracked by various agencies.


Containers for food and beverages can be reused several times until they break and are eventually recycled. Up to 95% of recycled glass can be used to make new articles according to the Glass Packaging Institute. However, only about 34% are recycled. This percentage is made up mostly of the following three types of containers:

  • Beer and soft drink – 41.3%
  • Wine and liquor – 34.5%
  • Food – 15%
Food Waste

Not all of food waste is composted. There are many ways in which it is recycled according to a Post-Consumer Food EPA report.

  • Donation by residents, and commercial units like restaurants, grocery stores to charities and local food banks account for 1.5% of food waste diverted from landfills through two agencies: Food Donation Connection and Feeding America.
  • About 0.74% (0.1 MT) of discarded food from restaurants, retailers, and residents was used as animal feed from 2015 to 2018.
  • Biogas was produced by anaerobic digestion of solid waste by 1,500 digesters across the US. This included food alone or mixed with other MSW.

Food waste refers to post-consumer waste from restaurant, grocery, and household food, and excludes preconsumer food from food processing facilities, agricultural operations, or other industrial processes. Of the commercial units surveyed, a good portion still had most of their waste end up in landfills. The manufacturing industry reported the highest recovery rates through animal feed at around 82%.


On an average, Americans threw away 70 pounds of clothing, textiles, shoes or accessories. Eighty-five percent of this was destined for the landfill where it takes up 5% of the space according to the Council for Textile Recycling.

The 15% was recovered through donation or recycling. Of these 10-20% were resold as second-hand clothing and 80% of the donated articles went to recyclers. From there:

  • 45% was reused or repurposed or exported as second-hand clothing
  • 30% was converted to cleaning rags for commercial units
  • 20% was recycled as fiber which goes into production of carpets, or home insulation
  • 5% ended as waste

Of the 23 MT of metals (EPA fact sheet p. 8), iron accounted for 17.55 MT (or 6.9% of total waste), aluminium 3.5 MT (or 1.4%) and other metals for two MT (or 0.8%). Iron accounts for 33%, aluminum for 20%, and other various metals 68.2% of the total recycled metals.


The American Chemistry Council states in that 6 billion pounds of plastic were recycled. This included “more than 3 billion pounds of bottles, nearly 1.3 billion pounds of other rigid plastics, and nearly 1.2 billion pounds of flexible wraps and bags also known as ‘film’.”

The recycling rate of plastic bottles fell to 31.1% in 2015 from 31.7% in 2014.

  • PET (1) recovery decreased by 15 million pounds.
  • HDPE (2) recovery was 34.4% or 1.1 billion pounds.
  • PP (5) recovery was 32 million pounds.

Although electronics are recyclable, only around 40% of selected e-waste was recovered according to EPA fact sheet. Computers and other electronics discarded in landfill become a source of disproportionately large amounts of hazardous waste like lead, cadmium, mercury, and other materials.

How Does Your State Stack-Up?

One of the best ways to improve United States recycling statistics is to start at the state level and filter down to the community level and home level. The more responsibility taken at lower levels in the recycling chain, the better the national outcome will be. Consumer interest is a great way to get recycling programs started in communities.