Recycle Coach, a digital recycling education platform used in over 1,400 municipalities in North America, announced the results of their survey administered to residents across the US through the duration of September 2022. The survey ranged in scope from commonly recycled items such as plastic bottles, to more challenging items such as light bulbs.
The survey was customized for each municipality, according to what is accepted in their program. Participants were shown the correct results for the recyclability of each item based on where they live, with the aim to motivate behavior change, where necessary. In addition to the survey being its own educational content for residents, Recycle Coach aimed to track trends and monitor changes in understanding year over year to help municipalities administer targeted recycling education on materials in which their residents lack understanding.
Recycling Contamination Issues
Contamination refers to the things people put in recycling that don’t belong. The national average for recycling contamination is estimated to be 17%, although contamination in some areas can reach 40% or more. The overall correct answer rate on this survey for residents in the US was 74%, which correlates closely with these contamination rate statistics.
“To combat recycling contamination, we need to learn what people do and do not understand about their local recycling programs,” said Jeff Galad, Chief Revenue Officer at Recycle Coach.
“People want to recycle more, and they want to recycle correctly, so we need to see where the disconnect is about their understanding, in order to make sure they get the information they need to be successful recyclers.”
Loss of Material Recovery
Enhanced recycling education is the key to lowering contamination rates and increasing material recovery. The EPA has set out to increase the recycling rate from 32.1% to 50% by 2030. With so many residents across the country misunderstanding what is accepted in their local programs, loss of recoverable materials is another prevalent issue.
Materials such as plastic bottles, jugs, and jars are a commonly accepted item in nearly every location, yet across the nation, only 72% of participants knew to recycle these items. This means around 28% of residents may not be recycling these accepted plastic items and they are lost to landfill instead of recovered for recycling.
The survey data shows that more localized recycling education is needed for residents to understand their program, lower contamination rates, and increase recovered recyclable materials.