While 95% of Americans say they recycle (and only 25% of them recycle ‘some of the time’), fewer than half know the basics of recycling, according to the 2021 Consumer Recycling Habits survey by the Paper and Packaging Board (P+PB), part of its sustainability initiative.
A July 2021 survey of 1,005 U.S. consumers age 18 or older revealed that Americans are largely confused about the proper ways to recycle, including what materials are recyclable. In fact, nearly half do not know that boxes should be emptied and broken down for pick-up (49%), where they can drop off recycling (46%) or information about their designated recycling days (44%). When it comes to recycling extra-large items, over a quarter of people do not know how to properly break down and recycle these items (29%), and roughly the same amount of people don’t know who to contact with recycling questions (27%).
“As individuals take steps toward a more sustainable future, choosing paper and paper packaging can be a key step because paper products are sourced from a renewable resource – trees.” said Mary Anne Hansan, president of P+PB. “With this survey, we hope to increase awareness around recycling, encourage daily recycling habits and propel people to become a force for nature. Not only is recycling good for the environment, it also can boost our happiness and confidence.”
Regardless of the varied views of and habits on recycling, nearly half of Americans (47%) agree that paper is one of the easiest materials to recycle, compared to other materials such as plastic (34%), metal (11%) or glass (9%).
The need for increased recycling is at an important inflection point, in which consumers are shopping online more than ever in parallel to rising concern around climate change. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans spent $791.7 billion on e-commerce in 2020, up 32.4% from 2019. More packages arriving to homes and businesses means more packing materials and boxes that should be properly recycled.
The survey also revealed that the adoption of ongoing recycling routines (or lack thereof) may correlate to Americans’ overall feeling of happiness and confidence. Nearly 4 in 5 (78%) people who do not always recycle confess they feel guilty
about this sub-par behavior, with women more likely than men to feel guilty when they do not recycle (82% vs. 72%).
Americans who always or frequently recycle say they are doing their part to save the planet (88%) – compared to those who only sometimes or rarely recycle (67%).
Unfortunately, 76% of Americans do not know how many times paper and cardboard can be recycled. Many may be surprised to know that these materials can be recycled and repurposed up to seven times when balanced with new fiber. Educating consumers around all the innovative and useful ways that this material can be repurposed through recycling or repurposing in creative ways is key to further adopting the practice into their everyday lives. Americans can follow three simple steps to adopt paper and cardboard recycling into their everyday lives to ensure a more Earth-friendly environment:
“It’s incredibly important for people to help ensure a healthy and sustainable planet – whether it’s choosing paper over other materials, recycling or reusing paper products to help reduce waste altogether,” Hansan added.