44 Important Facts about Recycling

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published November 8, 2016
  • It is more likely that Americans will recycle than vote.[13]
  • In the U.S. alone, over 20 billion diapers are thrown out a year, accounting for over 3.5 million tons of waste.[7]
  • Because landfills are so densely packed, much of the degradation that occurs is anaerobically, or without air. Anaerobic processes create a tremendous about of methane gas, which is a major contributor to global warming.[16]
  • Only about 5% of all plastics in the U.S. are actually recycled.[11]
  • In the U.S. alone, people throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles per hour. Each one takes 500 years to decompose.[11]
  • It takes 70% less energy to recycle paper than to make it from raw material.[16]
  • "Rag and Bone" men would collect unwanted household items, including bones, to sell to merchants
  • In the late 1800s, peddlers acted as early recyclers. They would carry sacks of reusable items in their wagons to sell to general stores.[13]
  • Over the past 100 years, the amount of waste that humans produced has increased by over 10,000%.[16]
  • A plastic bag from the grocery store takes between 500 and 1,000 years to degrade.[16]
  • There are about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of our oceans.[8]
  • Americans throw out enough bottles and cans to reach to the moon and back—20 times.[16]
  • Over 1 million seabirds die each year from ocean pollution.[8]
  • In the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” located in the Pacific Ocean, for every 2.2 pounds of plankton, there is 13.2 pounds of garbage, including cigarette buts, cans, plastic bags, bottles, Styrofoam, toothbrush, balloons, and more.[8]
  • Burying coffins also means that 90,272 tons of steel, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, and over 30 million feet of hard wood covered in toxic laminates are also buried per year. However, a British company called “Ecopod” offers coffins made from 100% recycled paper.[4]
  • Every year, over 50 million tons of e-waste (electronic waste, such as computers and cell phone) is created. This is akin to filling a line of garbage trucks halfway across the Earth.[5][13]
  • Only 12.5% of e-waste is recycled
  • Worldwide, people use an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags, which equates to 100 million barrels of oil. Approximately 380 billion of those bags are from the U.S.[8]
  • Companies sell products that are meant to be disposable. For example, Apple consciously designed the battery life of its product to fail after a year or two so people would buy a newer model.[16]
  • Laid end to end, all the aluminum cans recycled world wide in 2010 would circle the Earth 169 times.[16]
  • If Americans would recycle just 1/10 of their newspapers, over 25 million trees would be saved every year.[1]
  • After getting liposuction, a New Zealand skipper recycled his fat into biofuel to power his eco-boat.[3]
  • The U.S. recycling rate is about 34.5%. If the rate goes up to 75%, it will be like removing 50 million cars from U.S roads.[11]
  • "Pee-cycling" was commonly practiced
  • Before the twentieth century, most Americans and Europeans practiced habits of reuse and recycling that prevailed in agricultural communities. For example, in the Middle Ages, tanners would often collect urine to use in tanning animal skins or making gunpowder.[13]
  • Over 11 million tons of recyclable clothing, shoes and textiles are disposed into landfills each year. This is equivalent to 70 billion t-shirts.[2]
  • Bones were one of the most recycled items before the twentieth century. Bones were often used for making buttons and gelatin, which was used in food processing, photography, and glue and paper making.[15]
  • As fewer people created their own goods after the Industrial Revolution, expert knowledge of handiwork skills and materials became obsolete. Leftovers and scraps that were once considered valuable and reusable now became trash. The first organized incineration of trash began in England in 1874.[15]
  • Over 70% of e-waste ends up in China, where much of it is recycled in family-run workshops. Their methods of recycling are often rudimentary and can create serious environmental contaminants and health risks.[5]
  • Cigarette butts and filters take 12 years to biodegrade. An aluminum can takes between 200 to 500 years to biodegrade. Plastic diapers and sanitary pads take between 500-800 years. Styrofoam takes more than 5,000 years.[20]
  • Glass takes 1 million years to fully degrade in a landfill.[10]
  • Recycling takes little effort on your part, for a big difference to our world.

    - Energy Recyclers

  • An average American will produce about 90,000 pounds of garbage in his or her lifetime.[16]
  • The Hershey chocolate company uses about 133 square miles of aluminum to wrap the 20 million kisses they make every day. While the wrap is recyclable, most people don’t think recycle such tiny pieces.[1]
  • In the U.S. alone, over 140 million cellphones are thrown into landfills every year. If all the cellphones were recycled, it would save enough energy to power 25,000 households for one year.[14]
  • The top American cities for recycling are 1) San Francisco, 2) Boston, 3) Chicago, 4) Denver, and 5) Portland.[18]
  • In the Pacific Ocean, there is a “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” which is about the size of Texas. The garbage extends 20 feet (6 meters) down into the water and contains over 3.5 million tons of garbage. It is estimated to double in size in the next 5 years.[8]
  • Earth's largest landfill isn't on land at all
  • In measuring recycling rates, Switzerland ranks first, at 52%. Australia (49.7%), Germany (48%), the Netherlands (46%), and Norway (40%) round out the top 5. The U.S. comes in at 31.5%.[19]
  • Recycling saves twice as much energy as burning garbage in an incinerator.[16]
  • In the United States alone, people throw away 25 billion styrofoam coffee cups a year.[11]
  • Recycling, re-using, and composting creates 6-10 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.[16]
  • Nine out of ten people said they would recycle if it were easier.[16]
  • Ever year, the world generates 2.6 trillion pounds of garbage.[17]
  • Yes, even these can be recycled
  • Companies such as Scarlet Girl in Oregon and Love Honey in the UK specialize in recycling used sex toys.[6]
  • Americans dispose of enough steel each year to build all the new cars made in America.[10]
  • The first municipal dump was created in 400 B.C. in ancient Athens.[15]
  • Women typically express more concern for the environment and are better recyclers than men. Additionally, women, on average, generate less of a carbon footprint than men.[9]
  • The United States throws away $11.4 billion worth of recyclable containers and packaging every year.[12]
References

1 "Aluminum Recycling Facts." A Recycling Revolution. 2005. Accessed: August 30, 2016.

2 Bryant, Kelly. "8 Surprising Facts and Misconceptions about Recycling.” Mental Floss. April 22, 2015. Accessed: August 29, 2016.

3 "Eco-boat Powered by Human Fat Attempts Round the World Speed Record." Daily Mail. December 19, 2007. Accessed: August 29, 2016.

4 Ecopod.Co.uk. Accessed: December 16, 2008.

5Elevated Concentrations of Toxic Metals in China’s E-waste Recycling.” ScienceDaily. April 1, 2008. Accessed: December 10, 2008.

6 Kay, Tonya. “Sex Toy Recycling: Yes, There are Companies That Do That.” Eco Hearth. June 26, 2014. Accessed: August 29, 2016.

7 Keefer, Amber. “Environmental Impact of Disposable Diapers.” Livestrong. June 24, 2015. Accessed: August 29, 2016.

8Ocean Plastic & Sea Turtles.” 2016. Accessed: August 29, 2016, Oceanic Society.

9 Rastogi, Nina. "Man vs. Woman vs. Planet." Slate. November 16, 2010. Accessed: August 30, 2016.

10 "Recycling Facts & Trivia." Department of Ecology State of Washington. 2016. Accessed: August 29, 2016.

11 "Recycling Facts." MRC Polymers. 2016. Accessed: August 29, 2016.

12 "Recycling in America: In the Bin." The Economist. April 22, 2015. Accessed: August 30, 2016.

13 Rogers, Heather. Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage. New York, NY: The New Press, 2005.

14 "Statistics That Will Make You Want To Recycle Your Cell Phone." SC Johnson. February 15, 2012. Accessed: August 29, 2016.

15 Strasser, Susan. Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1999.

16 Szaky, Tom. 2014. Outsmart Waste: The Modern Idea of Garbage and How to Think Our Way Out of It." San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

17 Thompson, Derek. "2.6 Trillion Pounds of Garbage: Where Does the World's Trash Go?" The Atlantic. June 7, 2012. Accessed: August 29, 2016.

18 "Top 5 Most Recycle Friendly Cities in the U.S." Filters Now. July 30, 2012. Accessed: August 29, 2016.

19 "Which Country In The World Recycles The Most?" Why Should I Recycle? 2016. Accessed: August 29, 2016.

20 Zimrig, Carl A. Cash for Your Trash. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Suggested for you

Prev
Next

Trending Now

Load More
>