Recycling Rates By Material, & By Country

When it comes to recycling, some materials are more recyclable than others.

In the guide below, we outline:

– Recycling rates by material

– Recycling rates by country

– Recycling rates by States within countries

We discuss materials like paper, metals, plastic, and others.

 

Summary – Recycling Rates By Material, & By Country

Recycling Rate By Material

– Paper & Cardboard (Paperboard)

In the US, the recycling rate might be 64.7%

In China, the recycling rate might be 46.5%

 

– Metals

In the US, one report indicated that iron & steel were recycled at a rate of 52% in 2016. However, another report indicated that steel was the most recycled material in North America at 88%, and more steel was recycled than aluminum, paper, glass and plastic combined. Another reports indicated that steel cans had a high recycling rate of 71.3 percent in the US in 2015, whilst ferrous metals (like steel) in durable goods had a recycling rate 27.8 percent – so, the type of recycled item appears to impact recycling rates.

In the US in 2016, one report indicated that the recycling rate of lead was 67%. Another report indicated that in 2015 in the US, recycled battery lead was at a rate of about 99 percent

In the US in 2016, one report indicated that the recycling rate of magnesium was 54%

In the US in 2016, one report indicated that the recycling rate of aluminum was 50% overall. Another report indicated that in 2015, some aluminum items were recycled at around a 36% rate, whilst beer and soft drink cans were recycled at 54.9%. In 2009 in the EU however, tin and aluminum had a recycling rate of 72%

Steel, aluminum and copper may be three of the most recycled metals in some countries

For metals overall though, one reporting indicated that only 18 of 60 metals have a 50% or greater recovery rate. 34 metals had a recovery rate of less than 1%

The recycling rate of metals can depend on the product or application they are used in – some metals used in industrial applications have a far higher recycling rate than some metals used in some electronic good

Some specific products/items like aluminum cans may not only have high recycling rates, but can be recycled over and over

 

– Plastic

Globally, the recycling rate might be between 14% to 20%

In the US, the recycling rate might be around 9% (although certain plastic products like PET plastic bottles and jars, and HDPE bottles can be recycled at rates closer to 30%. In the guide below, we’ve also included information from learn.eartheasy.com on the recycling rate of different plastic types – PET and HDPE have the highest recycling rates of plastic types)

In China, the recycling rate might be 22%

In India, the recycling rate might be higher than 14%

In Australia, the recycling rate might be 11.8%

Some recycled plastics may eventually end up going to landfill or get incinerated when they can’t be recycled anymore. Some plastics are also ‘downcycled’ and used for secondary uses like plastic fibres in clothing, or carpeting

The recycling rate of plastic packaging specifically is around 14%

Read more specifically about the recycling rates of plastic bottles in this guide

 

– Glass

In the US, the recycling rate might be around one third of all glass, or roughly around 33%

In Switzerland, Germany, & some other European countries, the recycling rates might be as high as 90%

Read more about the recycling rates specifically of glass bottles in this guide

 

– Wood

We don’t include any specific recycling rates of wood in the guide below, but, some reports indicate that it has a high re-use and recycling potential

 

– E Waste

In the US, the recycling rate might be between 19% to 29%

 

– Composite Materials

An example of a composite material is the material used for boxed/carton/paper water products.

How well these materials are recycled depends on the company making them, what they are made of and their design, and the waste management systems available in a specific city.

 

Recycling Rate By Country

– United States

The average recycling rate in the US might be around 34% to 35%, however, the rate may change over time

 

– China

China doesn’t provide official statistics for recycling at this time

 

– Europe

There can be large differences between average recycling rates in EU-27 countries. Some are much higher, and some are much lower

For EU-27 countries and Norway, the average recycling rate might be 43%

 

– Australia

The average recycling rate might be 50% to 60%

 

– Canada

The average recycling rate might be 26.8%

 

– United Kingdom

The average recycling rate might be 45%

 

– Russia

The average recycling rate might be 5% to 7%

 

– India

The average recycling rate might be 60%

 

Recycling Rate By States Within Countries

– US States

San Francisco diverts about 80% of it’s waste from landfills, compared to New York at 21% and Chicago at 10%

 

– Australian States

South Australia may have the highest average recycling rate of all Australia States at 76.5%, and this includes composting too

 

What Recycling Rates Can Countries & States Aim For?

As just one example, one report indicates that the US might be able to aim to recycle and reuse 60% of all disposed waste

 

Other Notes About Recycling Rates

Recycling rates of materials can vary between countries, between different years (for example, globenewswire.com indicates that Canada’s post consumer plastic recycling amount increased by 0.9% from 2015 to 2016), and also between types of a specific material e.g. between the different types of metals. There’s different variables to recycling rates

Recycling rates can be assessed year on year to understand recycling trends

For some countries, there’s either no waste reporting data released at all, or, in other countries the waste reporting data may not be reliable or accurate

Some products make recycling certain materials far easier than others. We mentioned the metal example above, but, this can be the case with products with plastic in them too – some plastic products are far more recyclable than others

Different countries and even different States within countries have different recycling infrastructure and recycling systems capabilities

There’s a difference between municipal waste and other types of waste like industrial waste – waste types can be sorted into many different categories

In this guide, when we reference ‘average recycling rate’, what we mean is the % of all waste generated that is recycled. The numbers that some countries release sometimes include composting in this number.

 

China & The Importation & Exportation Of Recyclable Material

What is important to note is that there has been a big shift in the way recycling works in some of the major developed countries. 

China previously used to import/buy recyclable material, but has placed a stop on that (as of 2017/18).

Some places in the US for example have had to move the excess recyclable material to landfills because of different reasons (i.e. to cope with excess supply, and also because it makes more economic sense)

So, the real figure to know is the amount of material that is being processed at recycling plants, and not just admitted to recycling plants and sent elsewhere.

 

Recycling Rate By Material

The recycling rate of different materials can vary between different countries, between different years, and also between the different types of an individual material e.g. the different types of metals.

 

Recycling Rate Of Paper & Cardboard

United States

Over 68 million tons of paper and paperboard products are recovered annually in the U.S., achieving a recycling rate of 64.7 percent (thebalancesmb.com)

 

Share Of All Municipal Solid Waste That Paper & Paperboard Might Make Up In The US

[In the US in 2015] … paper and paperboard [accounted] for approximately 67 percent of [recycled municipal solid waste] (epa.gov)

 

China

[In 2020, China’s recycling rate of paper and cardboard was 46.5%] (statista.com)

 

Recycling Rate Of Metals (Aluminum, Steel and Other Metals)

Recycling Rate In The United States

Recycling rates of selected metals in the U.S. in 2016, by metal, were:

Lead – 67%

Magnesium – 54%

Iron & Steel – 52%

Aluminum – 50%

– statista.com

 

According to epa.gov, the recycling rates of different aluminum items in the US in 2015 was:

… the total recycling rate of aluminum containers and packaging, which includes beverage containers, food containers, foil and other aluminum packaging, was 36.4 percent.

Within this number, the most recycled category of aluminum was beer and soft drink cans, at 54.9 percent (0.7 million tons).

 

According to epa.gov, the recycling rate of steel and ferrous metals in the US in 2015 was:

… the recycling rate for steel cans was 71.3 percent (1.2 million tons) … 

… the recycling of ferrous metals from durable goods (large and small appliances, furniture, and tires to be 27.8 percent (4.4 million tons) …

The recycling rate of all materials in appliances, including ferrous metals, was 61.7 percent.

 

With an overall recycling rate of 88% in 2012, steel is North America’s most recycled material.

More steel is recycled each year than aluminum, paper, glass and plastic combined

– azocleantech.com

 

From greenlifestylemag.com.au

[In Australia] both [aluminum and stainless steel] have achieved high levels of industry recycling.

Approximately 75 per cent of the primary aluminium ever produced is still in use, while more than 50 per cent of stainless steel is made from remelted scrap metal. 

 

According to epa.gov, recycling rates of non ferrous metals, particularly lead, in 2015 in the US were:

[A large % of] nonferrous metals … recycling [was] due to lead recovered from batteries [in the US in] 2015

… the estimated amount of recycled battery lead was about 99 percent

 

[One report suggests] Of the 60 [metals] studied, only 18 had greater than 50 percent recovery, with three items in the 25-50 percent recovery, three elements in the 10-25 percent category, two elements at 1-10 percent, 34 elements less than 1 percent.

[Read more about the top ten metals recovered in recycling in the thebalancesmb.com resource]

– thebalancesmb.com

 

Some reports indicate that of all metals recycled as scrap metal in the US, and when measuring by million of tons recycled, iron and steel are recycled the most by far of any metal, and aluminum is in a distant second place

 

Share Of All Municipal Solid Waste That Metal Might Make Up In The US

– United States

[In the US in 2015] … metal comprised about 12 percent of [recycled municipal solid waste] (epa.gov)

 

Metal Recycling Rates Can Depend On The Product Or Application They Are Used In

[Using gold as an example] … 70 to 90 percent of gold in industrial applications is recycled, for example, only 10 to 15 percent of gold is recycled from electronic goods (thebalancesmb.com)

 

How We Might Recycle More Metal

There are also suggestions on how we might recycle more metals in the thebalancesmb.com and resourcepanel.org resources 

 

Recycling Rate Of Plastic

Globally

… it’s estimated that in 2015, around 55 percent of global plastic waste was discarded, 25 percent was incinerated, and 20 percent was recycled (ourworldindata.org)

 

… the global average [recycling rate of plastic is about] 14% (economictimes.indiatimes.com)

 

Only 18 percent of plastic is recycled.  This is the rate for plastics overall, including plastics in cars and buildings (darrinqualman.com)

 

United States

… the U.S. in 2015 recycled 9.1 percent of the plastic generated, down from 9.5 percent during the previous year (resource-recycling.com)

 

United States, By Individual Plastic Type

learn.eartheasy.com has some figures on the recycling rates of different plastic types (by plastic resin identification code) in the US:

Plastic #1 (PET) – about 25% of PET bottles in the US today are recycled

Plastic #2 (HDPE) – only about 30-35% of HDPE plastic used in America gets recycled each year

Plastic #3 (PVC) – less than 1% of PVC material is recycled.

Plastic #4 (LDPE) – Products made using LDPE plastic are reusable, but not always recyclable

Plastic #5 (PP) – Polypropylene is recyclable through some curbside recycling programs, but only about 3% of PP products are currently being recycled in the US

Plastic #6 (PS) – Recycling is not widely available for polystyrene products. Most curbside collection services will not accept polystyrene, which is why this material accounts for about 35% of US landfill material

Plastic #7 (Other – BPA, Polycarbonate, LEXAN) – #7 plastics are not for reuse, unless they have the PLA compostable coding

 

From forbes.com “[The reality is] many plastics simply cannot be effectively recycled. Even the most recyclable plastic, PET – or polyethylene terephthalate – is only recycled at a rate of 20-30%, with the rest typically going to incinerators or landfills”.

 

From ecologycenter.org: “The plastics industry rarely uses recycled plastics in the vast majority of their products, unlike the glass and metal industries”

 

The recycling rates of different types of plastic can be impacted by the local curbside recycling programs, specialised recycling programs, and recycling facilities and capabilities in a given town or city.

 

Share Of All Municipal Solid Waste That Plastic Might Make Up In The US

[In the US in 2015] … glass, plastic and wood made up between 4 and 5 percent of [recycled municipal solid waste] (epa.gov)

 

China

China’s plastics recycling rate in 2013 was about 22 percent – far higher than the United States, which averages about 9 percent annually (theconversation.com)

 

India

… the recycling rate [of plastic] in India is considerably higher than the global average of 14%  (economictimes.indiatimes.com)

 

Australia

In 2016–17 the national plastics recycling rate was 11.8% (environment.gov.au)

 

Recycling Rate Of Glass

United States vs Other Countries

From cen.acs.org:

[Only about one third of the glass disposed of in the US gets recycled annually and the rest ends up in trash].

There is a 90% recycling rate [for glass] in Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries 

 

Share Of All Municipal Solid Waste That Glass Might Make Up In The US

[In the US in 2015] … glass, plastic and wood made up between 4 and 5 percent of [recycled municipal solid waste] (epa.gov)

 

Recycling Rate Of Wood

Share Of All Municipal Solid Waste That Wood Might Make Up In The US

[In the US in 2015] … glass, plastic and wood made up between 4 and 5 percent of [recycled municipal solid waste] (epa.gov)

 

Recycling Rate Of E Waste

United States

According to the EPA, only about 1 million tons of over 3.4 million tons of e-waste generated in the U.S. in 2012 was recycled, resulting in a recycling rate of 29 percent.

The e-waste recycling rate in 2011 was 24.9 percent, and 19.6 percent in 2010

– thebalancesmb.com

 

Recycling Rate By Country

One way to measure and express the average recycling rate for a country might be the % of of generated waste that is recycled.

Some countries also count composted waste in their overall/average recycling rate.

The average recycling rate differs between different countries around the world.

 

Recycling Rate By State, Province Or Region Within Countries

As is illustrated elsewhere in this guide with the different US States, the average recycling rate differs between States, Provinces and different regions within a country.

Another example of this is that signalwaste.com.au indicates that South Australia in Australia has the highest average recycling rate amongst all Australian States & Territories, with 76.5% of all waste being recycled or composted.

 

Average Recycling Rate In The United States

Now

The U.S. recycling rate is around 34.5% (rubicon.com)

 

Trend Over Time

Over time [in the United States], recycling rates have increased from just over 6 percent of MSW [municipal solid waste] generated in 1960 to about 10 percent in 1980, to 16 percent in 1990, to about 29 percent in 2000, and to over 34 percent in 2015 (epa.gov)

 

Read More

You can read more about waste generation, recycling/composting, combustion, and landfilling numbers and stats at epa.gov

 

Average Recycling Rates By US State

San Francisco vs New York vs Chicago

San Francisco is already way ahead of other cities … [and it] diverts about 80 percent of its waste from landfills, or more than 1.5 million tons every year

[As a comparison,] New York only diverts about 21 percent of its waste and Chicago is at about 10 percent

– cnbc.com

 

Average Recycling Rate In China 

China doesn’t provide official statistics for recycling but it has a goal of achieving 35% waste recovery in major cities by 2020 (earth.org)

 

Average Recycling Rates In Europe

Average Recycling Rates

In 2014, 43% of the municipal waste generated in the EU-27 and Norway was recycled …

For municipal waste, large differences in recycling rates between European countries prevail; in 2014, the rates ranged from 64% in Germany to 1% in Serbia.

In six countries, recycling rates were equal or higher than 50%, while five countries recycled less than 20%. 

In 2014 … overall recycling rates ranged from 81% in Belgium to 41% in Malta.

– eea.europa.eu

 

Trends Over Time

… recycling rates for municipal waste increased by 13 percentage points between 2004 and 2014, and recycling rates for packaging waste by 10 percentage points between 2005 and 2013 (eea.europa.eu)

 

Rates For Specific Types Of Waste

… in 2013, 65% of packaging waste generated was recycled

In 2014, 24 countries recycled 55% or more packaging waste

– eea.europa.eu

 

Average Recycling Rate In Australia

It’s hard to say exactly how much recycling is processed in Australia, as there’s no coherent national database of facilities.

But, according to a 2011 government report, Australia generates roughly 50 million tonnes of waste a year, around 50-60% of which is recycled.

– theconversation.com

 

Average Recycling Rate In Canada

As of 2012, Canada has a recycling rate around 26.8% (wikipedia.org)

 

Average Recycling Rate In The UK

Local authorities in England produced 22.4m tonnes of waste in 2017, of which 45% was recycled (theconversation.com)

 

Average Recycling Rate In Russia

… the percentage of recycled waste in Russia is about 5-7% (letsdoitworld.org)

 

Average Recycling Rate In India

Indians throw out 15,342 tonnes of plastic waste every day, of which about 60% is recycled, most of it in the informal sector … (economictimes.indiatimes.com)

 

What Recycling Rate Might Countries Aim For?

Obviously it depends on the type of waste, and the facilities and systems available in a specific country, amongst other variables.

Potential recycling goals might include though …

 

United States

… the average American throws away 3.5 pounds of trash each day, 60% of which could be recycled and reused (azocleantech.com)

 

Australia

… across Australia only about 20% of all plastic packaging is recycled, [and one estimate indicates Australia could] recycle five times as much plastic as [they currently are] (westbin.com.au)

 

 

Sources

1. https://www.azocleantech.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=585

2. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials  

3. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/paper-recycling-facts-figures-and-information-sources-2877868 

4. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/scrap-metal-recycling-rate-2877928 

5. https://www.statista.com/statistics/251345/percentage-of-recycled-metals-in-the-us-by-metal/ 

6. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/e-waste-recycling-facts-and-figures-2878189 

7. https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics 

8. https://resource-recycling.com/plastics/2018/08/01/epa-u-s-plastics-recycling-rate-declines/

9. https://www.epa.gov/recycle/america-recycles-day-2018

10. http://theconversation.com/is-there-any-point-in-recycling-109550 

11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycling_in_Canada 

12. https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/06/04/1516587/0/en/Canada-s-Plastic-Packaging-Recycling-Rate-Rises-Again-as-Access-to-Recycling-Programs-Nears-100.html 

13. 2016_PostConsumerPlasticRecyclingInCanada.pdf 

14. https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/waste-recycling-1/are-recycling-rates-increasing-in-europe 

15. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/indl-goods/svs/paper-/-wood-/-glass/-plastic/-marbles/india-wants-to-double-consumption-of-cheap-material-in-5-yrs-what-about-its-plastic-waste/articleshow/59301057.cms

16. https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/c8dd95af-c028-4b6e-9b23-153aecbf8c3c/files/australian-plastics-recycling-survey-report-2016-17.pdf  

17. https://theconversation.com/the-recycling-crisis-in-australia-easy-solutions-to-a-hard-problem-95231

18. https://theconversation.com/will-chinas-crackdown-on-foreign-garbage-force-wealthy-countries-to-recycle-more-of-their-own-waste-81440 

19. https://www.letsdoitworld.org/2017/02/recycling-in-russia/ 

20. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/13/how-san-francisco-became-a-global-leader-in-waste-management.html 

21. https://www.westbin.com.au/what-is-the-most-environmentally-friendly-method-of-disposing-of-your-waste/

22. https://www.rubicon.com/blog/statistics-trash-recycling/

23. http://www.resourcepanel.org/reports/recycling-rates-metals

24. https://www.signalwaste.com.au/Recycling-Right-in-South-Australia-bgp3037.html

25. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1076772/china-paper-recycling-rate/

26. https://earth.org/asia-recycling/

27. https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6

28. https://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/features/2436/plastic-vs-stainless-steel-vs-aluminium-reusable-water-bottles?page=0%2C0

29. https://www.darrinqualman.com/global-plastics-production/

30. https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/plastics-by-the-numbers/

31. https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottsnowden/2019/05/14/scientists-create-a-plastic-that-can-be-recycled-indefinitely/#3d3c9781619c

32. https://ecologycenter.org/plastics/

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