While technological innovations allow us to enjoy products and services that make our lives easier, it is also creating a society that rapidly consumes raw materials. Along with capitalism, we are producing more trash every year. Recycling statistics predict that if this remains uncontrolled, global waste will increase by up to 70% in 2050.
Luckily, public and private institutions are beginning to implement programs to manage the by-products of modern living. Aside from proper waste management, recycling is an integral part of creating a sustainable way of life.
To give you a better idea of how recycling affects you, your business, as well as the society in general, we have gathered some of the most relevant recycling statistics in this article. We will take a look at how countries are performing in terms of their recycling rates, how recycling affects the global economy and the environment, and more.
Recycling Statistics Table of Contents
General Recycling and Waste Statistics
Recycling is one of the leading waste management solutions put forth by experts around the world. However, while new systems and methods are being researched every day, it is not enough to fully manage the current waste production rate of the entire planet. Here’s a quick snapshot of the current situation in terms of waste management and recycling:
- More than 2 million tons of waste are produced around the world every year.
- The United States produces the most trash in the world at around 1,600 pounds per person per year.
- Up to 50 million metric tons of electronic trash is thrown out every year around the world.
- High-income countries generate 51% of the global dry wastes, which can be recycled.
- More than 33% of waste in high-income countries end up in open dumpsites.
- Dry recyclables such as paper, metal, and plastic make up about 38% of the global waste.
Source: What a Waste 2.0
Recycling Around the World
The implementation of recycling measures varies between countries and regions. This primarily depends on the nation’s ability to fund such projects, along with its relationship with the relevant private institutions and neighboring states. As such, which countries are leading in terms of the recycling rate? What types of programs are being adopted by individual countries? Let’s find out in the data below:
- Germany has the highest recycling rate of any country in the world at 66.1%.
- Along with Germany, Singapore (60.6%), Wales (60.2%), South Korea (59.0%), and Austria (55.9%) make up the top five countries that recycle the most.
- Interestingly, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan are the only non-European in the top 20 nations with the highest recycling rates.
- Sweden is revolutionizing how people recycle by implementing a country-wide system called Panta, which pays its citizens every time they deposit recyclables, such as cans or bottles.
- Similarly, Norway, Germany, and Denmark have recycling schemes that resemble Sweden’s Panta.
- In 2018, China began shutting down recycling facilities that accept tons of trash from other countries, such as the United States, due to environmental issues.
- About 39% of materials recycled by Singapore come from demolition, construction, and industrial industries.
- The US has recycled about 67.2 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) compared to 267.8 million tons of MSW generated in 2017.
- Furthermore, the United States also composted 27 million tons of MSW in the same year.
- Kamatsu, a mountain village in Japan, segregates its trash into up to 35 types to optimize its recycling process.
Recycling Various Types of Materials
Recycling highly depends on the type of trash that needs to be processed. Wastes such as plastic, electronic devices, metal, and other materials need specific methods to break them down and extract various components to reuse them. Fortunately, using these recycled resources save a significant amount of energy and other raw materials. Here are some facts on recycling specific types of substances:
- Around 300 million tons of plastic waste is produced every year and about half of which is the single-use type.
- Consequently, 91% of plastic waste ends up in landfills instead of being recycled every year.
- For every ton of plastic recycled, around 680 gallons of oil and 5,774 kWh of energy are saved.
- Also, recycling one ton of plastic saves up to 2,000 gallons of gasoline.
- In the US, electronic waste accounts for about 70% of the total toxic waste.
- Recycling one million cell phones saves 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium.
- Additionally, recycling one million laptops saves energy that can power over 3,500 homes in the United States.
- Recycling a ton of paper saves about 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water.
- Furthermore, air pollution created during paper production can be reduced by 73% if papers are produced from recycled materials instead of using raw sources.
- Each year, the US discards paper equivalent to 1 billion trees.
- Almost 100% of clothes and textiles are recyclable.
- Based on a study by US EPA, only 15.2% of textiles are recycled.
- Producing one aluminum can from raw materials is equal to producing 20 cans from recycled materials.
- That means, for every ton of aluminum recycled, around 14,000 kWh of energy and 1,663 gallons of oil are saved.
- Using recycled copper saves up to 90% of energy compared to using raw copper ore.
- Recycling a ton of glass saves around 42 kWh energy.
- More than 25 million tons of material is recycled from old vehicles.
Source: World Economic Forum; United Nations University: PECD
Environmental Impact of Recycling
Environmental conservation is the primary reason for waste management and recycling efforts around the world. By properly reusing materials from trash, we are reducing pollution, energy usage, and greenhouse gas emissions. Here are some of the effects of recycling on the environment:
- Recycling various types of materials contribute to energy savings: recycled steel (60% energy saved), recycled plastics (70% energy saved), recycled newspaper (40% energy saved), and recycled glass (40% energy saved).
- Also, composting and recycling about 21.5 million of food waste is similar to taking 2 million cars off the road.
- Recycling in the manufacturing and mining industries saves up to 95% of the freshwater used in their processes.
- Recycling paper using 100% reused materials reduces about 38% of net greenhouse gases.
- Moreover, a ton of cardboard recycled saves one cubic yard of space in landfills.
- Recycling one ton of newspapers saves fifteen trees.
- Additionally, recycling one ton of newspaper saves enough energy to power a television for 31 hours.
- Furthermore, if all newspapers printed in the United States per year are recycled, it can save up to 250 million trees.
- Reprocessing one gallon of oil can generate enough energy to power a home for half a day.
- A recycled glass beer bottle only uses 2,700 kJ of energy to produce compared to 3,900 kJ of energy to create a glass beer bottle from raw materials.
- If plastics dumped into the ocean are recycled, it can save the lives of up to 1 million sea creatures per year.
Source: Explain That Stuff!
Economic Impact of Recycling
The increasing efforts in developing recycling programs across the world have created various related industries. That means that aside from environmental benefits, recycling has a significant impact on the economy. Here are a few of them:
- The international recycling industry is around $200 billion in value.
- In the US, every 1,000 tons of recycled materials create 1.57 jobs, which are equal to $76,000 in annual wages.
- Municipalities in low-income countries spend about 20% of their budgets on solid waste management, which includes recycling.
- Advanced waste treatment and recycling systems can cost up to $100 per ton, depending on the methodology and technology used.
- About 15 million people worldwide are informally working in the waste section, which includes picking wastes for recycling.
- Recycling creates about 1.1 million jobs in the United States.
- Recycling contributes about $230 billion in gross annual sales in the US.
- Jobs created by recycling in the United States is equal to $37 billion in yearly payouts.
- The value of the waste recycling services market will grow up to 376 billion by 2024.
Zion Market Research
Recycling Trends and Predictions
Recycling is undergoing various changes in methods, technology, market value, and more. As experts evaluate various programs, they can identify crucial opportunities for improvement. For example, an increasing number of countries are finally banning single-use plastic. While the significant effects of these trends have yet to be determined, some predictions look promising.
- More than half of the countries in Africa have begun banning single-use plastic bags on a national level.
- Aside from banning single-use plastic bags in France and Italy, some European countries created agreements with their respective private sectors to reduce the use of lightweight plastic bags such as in Austria.
- Some countries and municipalities are using smart trash bins to create efficient waste management and recycling processes.
- Restaurants are beginning to consider composting their food waste for their gardens.
- New methods in chemical recycling allow for the recapturing of contaminated plastic materials.
- The value of the global plastic recycling market is at $41.73 billion in 2018. Experts expect it to grow at a CAGR of 6.6% from 2019 to 2027.
- Experts predict that the global metal recycling market will grow to $76.1 billion by 2025.
- Some countries, including Malaysia, have begun rolling out community-wide recycling initiatives.
Should You Start Recycling at Home?
When it comes to saving the planet, every act counts. That means you do not have to wait for the authorities to implement large-scale programs to start contributing to the conservation of the environment. By recycling at home, you can reap the benefits of being more mindful of your waste management. Here are a few things you can try:
- Beyond national-level projects, many municipalities are implementing their own recycling systems. Find out if your locality has an existing recycling effort.
- Additionally, you can save and reuse single-use plastic such as grocery bags. Better yet, choose reusable shopping bags made using sustainable materials.
- Reuse what you can, such as glass food jars to store your food or supplies.
- Buy products made from recycled materials.
- Bring electronic wastes such as light bulbs, old laptops, and similar trash to proper drop-off points in your municipality.
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