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Americans Fall Short On Recycling Efforts, Poll Finds

Only one-third of Americans take recycling seriously, with lack of awareness and understanding identified as key barriers.
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Only one-third of Americans claim to do their part when it comes to recycling, according to new research.

A poll of 2,000 Americans revealed that beyond the 34% who take recycling very seriously, others admit they try to recycle when they are able (29%) or don’t recycle as much as they should (9%).

The biggest factors that deter people from recycling were found to be concerns about under-regulation and contaminants (20%) and a lack of faith that the materials are actually being recycled (16%).

Another 29% are unaware of the recycling initiatives and laws in their city or state, and of those who are aware, nearly one in four (24%) admit they still don’t fully understand them.

When asked to outline other reservations, respondents said “I don’t know what the initiatives might be” or because “[their] city does not participate in recycling.”

On top of that, 51% of respondents are unaware of the initiatives companies and businesses are working on when it comes to PCR plastic. In fact, the survey showed 66% don’t know what “PCR” plastic means.

It is evident that there is more education to be had with Americans’ understanding of their role in recycling initiatives, as after learning that PCR plastic produced from post-consumer recycled resin and used to create new packaging to reduce impact on landfill waste, 56% noted purchasing PCR plastic products to be important to them.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of CG Roxane, results found that almost four in five (79%) respondents admitted they’ve committed a “recycling sin” over the past year.

Those included not verifying what materials their products are made from (30%) or placing recyclable items in a trash bag before putting them in a bin (27%).

But when it came to ranking recycling sins, offenses included throwing trash into a recycling bin, or vice versa (51%), not verifying what materials one’s items are made from (18%) and placing recycling items in a trash bag before putting them in the bin (27%).

If respondents were to witness a stranger throwing plastic into a trash can, most would silently judge them (30%), while 27% said they wouldn’t mind at all.

Though only 17% are likely to call out a stranger for their throwing away recyclable items or littering, 57% are likely to call out a family member or friend for similar behavior.

“The results showed that 32% of Americans are unable to correctly identify the universal recycling symbol signifying a product can be recycled, choosing one of the incorrect symbols shown within the survey instead”. Further, when asked what the numbers inside the symbol mean, only 35% knew they serve to identify the type of plastic from which materials are made said Charles Calvat, CG Roxane Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. “This highlights the knowledge gap between consumers who are looking to do their part and businesses who are already stepping up to the plate.”

The data also shows that Americans are making an effort with environmentally friendly initiatives. Almost one-third of respondents (32%) consider themselves “proud” of their recycling efforts. But another 11% feel their efforts are insignificant.

Despite their efforts, many still struggle with understanding how to recycle electronics (58%), household cleaning products (36%) and food containers (22%).

And on average, respondents lost or disposed of about five different types of reusable bags, water bottles or straws in the past year.

“Not only is it important to understand the recycling laws and initiatives in your community, but it is also important to take other environmentally friendly actions,” said Calvat. “Purchasing reusable items can mitigate landfill waste impact, but when those items are lost or improperly discarded whether done so carelessly or because they cannot be picked up as part of local recycling pickup, the environmental impact can be worse than that of single-use recyclable plastics.”

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 general population Americans was commissioned by CG Roxane between May 8 and May 12, 2023. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

Produced in association with SWNS Research

Edited by Daisy Atino and Virginia Van Zandt

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