37 Revealing Recycling Facts That You Need To Know

Photo of author
Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

The importance of recycling is becoming more apparent every day. The enormous levels of waste across the globe take up the finite space in landfills and only a fraction of it gets recycled. 

Furthermore, the world of recycling is a fascinating one full of exciting information. If you’re interested in it, let’s take a look at the most intriguing facts and statistics.

37 Recycling Facts

1. Recycling Goes Back A Long Time

Some of the first records of recycling can be traced back to the fifth century, but there are indications that it goes back even further. 

Archaeological evidence has uncovered that glass was recycled in Sagalassos during the Byzantine Empire.

Furthermore, some of the first inhabitants of Rome used bronze coins that were recycled to craft bronze statues,  these were then sold at a profit. 

In 500 BC, Athens had a city-wide waste removal service and all waste had to be kept at least a mile from the walls of the city to prevent pollution and disease.

2. It Was Common Before The Industrial Revolution

You might think that recycling only became commonplace after the previously agrarian-based society evolved into a mechanical one between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

In fact, it was expected to reuse and recycle as much as possible before mass production became the norm. 

Scrap metals were frequently melted down, and even ash from fires was used to create bricks. 

Furthermore, aluminum and glass were frequently reused to create new items. 

Additionally, society before the Industrial Revolution was motivated to save money through recycling.

This was because new materials were costly and usually hard to reach, so recycling became the standard that benefitted the population.

3. The Industrial Revolution Decreased Recycling

Once the Industrial Revolution occurred, materials became easier to procure in larger amounts. 

This made it easier for people to just replace and discard what they no longer needed. 

Whenever the economy crashed, however, people returned to recycling, especially during war times and the Great Depression. 

Furthermore, World War II increased the demand to reuse materials because everything was in short supply and the factories couldn’t meet the demand.

Therefore, recycling drives became common, and many resources only became possibilities due to the reusing of donated materials. 

These helped the war effort in supplying allied soldiers with equipment, weapons, and food supplies. 

Additionally, cooking oil was one of the most recycled materials, along with tin. 

4. Waste Separation Existed In The 19th Century

Garbage collection started becoming more widespread at this time, and waste separation was a common practice. 

Additionally, waste destined for the landfills was kept separate from materials that could be recycled. 

Also, organic food supplies were frequently reused to feed farm animals. 

The practice fell into disuse during the early part of the 20th century, but the economy and the political climate contributed to its rising popularity in the latter half of it.

5. The Post-War Period

Supplies were scarce in many countries across the globe, especially in Europe and Japan, in the time immediately following World War II. 

Therefore, recycling continued for a while, but once the economy started stabilizing again the overall recycling rates in the world plummeted once more.

During the 1950s, the more prosperous countries made single-use items synonymous with prosperity, which significantly increased waste and littering.

This was because it was fashionable to show status by having as much material wealth as possible and replacing it as often as possible too. 

In the US, landfills became the norm for waste disposal during the 1940s and 1950s, and it took until interest in preserving the environment spiked during the 1960s.

Then, by the 1970s recycling centers became popular, especially due to the rising utility bills.

Additionally, the Mobius strip recycling triangle that became the universal symbol for the practice was invented in the late 1960s by Gary Anderson. 

It has since become the most recognizable symbol in the world of recycling, and it perfectly captures its message.

6. Recycled Paper Has Been In Use For A Long Time

Japan was the first recorded country to introduce the use of recycled waste paper, back in the 11th century. 

Instead of discarding them, old documents were turned into new paper. 

This then extended the life and use of the paper for a longer time, which helped with the costs and manufacturing demand.

Furthermore, the end of the seventeenth century saw the advent of the manufacturing process to recycle paper. 

This was introduced in Philadelphia in the 1690s when paper was made from fiber which came from recycled materials like linen and cotton.

7. Victorian Recycling

The Salvation Army was first instated in London in the 1860s. 

Furthermore, its original mission was to deal with discarded items that could be recycled or repurposed. 

At the same time, the poor of the city were hired to collect these materials.

By the 1890s, the Salvation Army took its message of recycling to the United States, where precursors to recycling centers were introduced as early as 1897 in New York City. 

Read More:  Can You Recycle Textbooks? (Don't Make These Mistakes)

8. The First Earth Day Was In 1970

Earth Day is an important annual event for those interested in recycling and preserving the environment. 

It was inaugurated on April 22nd, 1970, in the United States, thanks to the efforts of a team led by senator Gaylord Nelson.

Furthermore, this was a powerful symbol of the rising interest in the environment and an attempt to move away from pollution.

Earth Day has been celebrated ever since, and it became an international event during the 1990s. 

9. The Global Warming Link

By the 2000s, researchers had started investigating the growing problem of global warming. 

Furthermore, a link was established between the huge amount of waste produced in the world and the rising temperature across the globe. 

The Environmental Protection Agency then started raising awareness on the topic and warning against excessive waste and pollution.

10. Recycling Efforts Have Been Increasing

During the 2000s and early 2010s, countries, and states started doubling down on recycling, especially with new regulations regarding e-waste and plastic disposal.

This was also especially related to reducing the popularity of single-use plastic bags. 

11. MSW Almost Passes 300 Million Tons

Municipal solid waste, also known as MSW, has some of the largest quantities of all waste types. 

In 2018, it reached over 292 million tons. Around 50% of MSW was thrown in landfills, while around 32% was either composted or recycled. 

12. San Francisco Wants 0% Waste By 2030

Between 2003 and 2012, San Francisco was at the forefront of cities invested in recycling. 

It managed to recycle around 80% of the waste in the city.

Also, its initial goal was to reach 0% waste by 2020, but that has been extended to the more realistic target of 2030.

Along with Vermont, San Francisco is one of the biggest recycling cities in the United States. 

In contrast, Indiana is the state that produces the most waste. 

In fact, the states ranking lowest in the recycling chart include Louisiana, Alaska, and Tennessee.

13. Green Packaging Expected To Grow 6% Per Year

The green packaging industry is providing sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging. 

This industry is developing quickly, and it’s expected to grow at a rate of 6% per year until 2027. 

Furthermore, this evolution is helping to hinder the production of plastic while offering other options to those interested in preserving the environment.

14. Recycling Paper Involves Over 70% Less Pollution

With its long recycling history, it comes as no surprise that recycling paper is one of the best ways to avoid pollution. 

Reusing paper means that the cutting of trees is reduced as the demand to create paper from scratch decreases. 

Additionally, creating paper uses numerous resources that strain the environment and recycling makes its use more sustainable.

15. Single-Use Diapers Are Thrown Away By The Billions

Disposable diapers are some of the most wasteful products to create.

To support the production of disposable diapers in the US, over 200,000 trees are cut and over 3 billion gallons of fuel are used. 

To make matters worse, Americans throw away at least 20 billion of them every year. 

These diapers can’t be recycled or reused, so if you’re looking for sustainable options it’s always best to invest in other types of diapers.

16. 25% More Trash Is Produced In Winter

Christmas time sees a huge spike in waste production that can accumulate up to 25 million tons more than any other time. 

Furthermore, there is less awareness of recycling as the stress and the distractions mount during the holiday season. 

Along with extra waste, there’s also more of a strain on the system from Christmas lighting and decorations. 

Food is also wasted in higher amounts during this time, and the gifts and wrappings may contribute to the increase of plastic materials not being properly recycled. 

Therefore, the coming together of families is not the most sustainable time of the year.

17. 695 Plastic Bottles Are Discarded Every Second

Americans consume large numbers of plastic bottles per year and rarely recycle them in great quantities. 

Furthermore, 2.5 million bottles are thrown away every year in the United States, a fact that is made more harrowing when considering that they can take more than 500 years to decompose.

18. Less Than 15% Of Textiles Are Recycled

Almost 100% of textiles and clothing fabrics can be recycled, but despite this, only about 14% are recycled per year in the United States. 

This is one of the recycling areas that need to evolve most because there are over 11 million tons of reusable textiles filling up the landfills. 

Therefore, if you have old clothes that you’d like to remove from your wardrobe, try to avoid waste by taking them to be recycled.

Many retailers offer their stores as drop-off points for clothing, and you can also use recycling centers for textiles.

Another option is to take your clothing to second-hand or outlet stores that make sustainable fashion their mission. 

Either of these possibilities will help reduce the strain on landfills and get more life out of clothes you don’t need anymore.

Read More:  Can You Recycle Bubble Mailers? (Your Full Guide)

19. Plastic Recycling Has Increased By 9% 

Since the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency has recorded a 9% increase in plastic recycling, but it continues to be far less than it should be. 

On the other hand, paper and yard waste recycling have increased by 68%  and 63%, respectively.

Interesting Recycling Facts

20. Recycling Paper Makes A Huge Difference

One tonne of paper recycling can save up to 17 trees from getting cut to produce more of this resource. 

Paper recycling also has a direct impact on lowering greenhouse gas emissions, which means the level of CO2 goes down too.

Therefore, to recycle paper correctly, make sure that you are only putting uncontaminated paper in the designated paper recycling bin. 

If there is any food waste on it, the entire lot will be considered not viable and will instead be taken to a landfill. 

However, if you have paper that is only partially tarnished, cut around it and recycle the good parts while throwing the rest away with the normal waste.

21. Glass Is 100% Recyclable

It can also be recycled continuously while keeping the same quality, which extends its lifespan. 

However, if not reused, glass bottles can take up to 4,000 years to fully decompose in landfills. 

This puts too much strain on them while causing unnecessary waste that could otherwise be put to better use.

When you recycle one glass bottle, that is the equivalent of saving the amount of energy required to power a light bulb for over four hours. 

Therefore, each recycled bottle makes a difference in numerous ways.

22. Styrofoam Cups Contribute Hugely To Landfill Waste

In the United States alone, 25 billion styrofoam cups end up in landfills every year. 

These are made from a type of polystyrene that can’t be recycled, mostly due to food contamination.

The same is true of boxes and recipients used for takeout and ready meals. 

Going forward, food retailers and hospitality companies need to make significant progress with this.

Furthermore, if possible, it’s always best to use traditional options like glass or ceramic plates, bowls, and cups.

For takeout, containers that are biodegradable and compostable are a great idea, and if you love to get a coffee on the way to work, bringing your own reusable travel mug.

23. Recycling Is The Cheapest Way To Remove Waste

It costs around $50 per ton to have waste sent to landfills, or between $65 to $75 to get it through the incinerator. 

In contrast, it only costs around $30 per ton to get waste recycled. 

It’s not only the best choice for the environment but also the one that costs the least, which should be one of the leading reasons to choose this method.

24. There’s A Waste Disposal Hierarchy

Recycling goes hand in hand with the other parts of the waste disposal process. 

Prevention is the main element in the hierarchy, followed by reducing, reusing, repurposing, and recycling. 

Furthermore, elimination or disposal is the last step in this hierarchy, and also the last resort. 

Additionally, the most essential part of the process is to prevent waste as much as possible to avoid stretching the already constrained limits of landfills and to avoid further emissions. 

Avoiding waste also avoids overusing resources like water that are so necessary to the planet but that have suffered from the effects of climate change.

25. A Huge Amount Of Food Goes To Waste

On average, almost half of the food in the United States goes to waste. 

Furthermore, 34 million tons of food waste are produced every year, and usually, only around 5% of that doesn’t end up in landfills.

To highlight the immensity of this, we can offer you another statistic: the amount of food that goes to waste in the United States is around 3000 pounds per second. 

Therefore, food tends to be the largest element of municipal state waste. 

Food waste languishing in landfills can produce methane, a greenhouse gas that pollutes around 25 times more than CO2. 

So if you can, you should consider incorporating compost into your recycling habits.

Some cities implement food waste into their waste disposal programs and provide special bins for this purpose. 

However, if you don’t have that option and you can’t start composting, consider only buying the amount of food that is necessary for your household or donate the excess whenever necessary.

26. Aluminum Is Also Forever Recyclable

Aluminum tends to be the main component in cans, even if you might know them under the false name of tin cans. 

This material can be recycled forever at the same quality, which makes it ideal for reuse. It’s also one of the easiest elements to recycle.

Just one person will have the chance to recycle thousands of aluminum cans during their lifetime. 

Furthermore, the cycle between an aluminum can getting recycled into a new one takes around 60 days.

This efficient process prevents a huge amount of waste and can be done by everyone during their daily routine.

Read More:  Can You Recycle Laundry Detergent Bottles? (Full Guide)

27. Recyclable Plastics

Here are the plastic types you should always recycle:

  • Plastic bottles and food packaging: These are made from a type of plastic that can be recycled at any time. Remember to rinse out your bottles and remove the lids before putting them in the recycling.
  • HDPE: High-density polyethylene is a type of plastic that can be recycled at any time. You can find it in milk bottles, shampoo bottles, and even piping.

Other plastics like low-density polyethylene and polystyrene are usually not part of government waste disposal programs, but you may be able to recycle them at other locations. 

Therefore, always check state guidelines to see what you can do with these materials before throwing them in with the general waste.

28. Cardboard Can Be Recycled Multiple Times

It can be recycled up to eight times, which reduces vast amounts of the methane produced by cardboard in landfills. 

Using recycled cardboard also saves water and energy, not to mention reducing the number of cut trees, the used landfill space, and gallons of oil. 

29. The World’s Oceans Are Full Of Plastic

A United Nations report stated that for every square mile of ocean, there are 46,000 plastic items. 

In total, the ocean has 139 million square miles. These plastic items aren’t always visible but they pollute enough to have a hugely detrimental impact on numerous species.

30. Plastic Bags Are Overused Everywhere

On an international scale, up to five trillion plastic bags are used every year. 

This amount of plastic bags is twice the size of most European countries. 

Additionally, there is an increased awareness that plastic bag use must be reduced and programs are constantly being developed to help.

If you’d like to help with this, make sure to always have a reusable shopping bag on hand when you go grocery shopping.

31. Germany Has The Highest Recycling Rates

Across the entire world, Germany has consistently been at the top of the list with its high recycling rates. 

Unlike other countries, Germany has been working on establishing waste disposal programs since 1990. 

In 1991, the recycling rate in Germany was 3% per year and it has since grown to over 56%. 

32. South Korea And Singapore Are Great Recyclers

South Korea is very involved with waste disposal management and consistently recycles around 53% per year. 

Despite the current crisis affecting this industry in South Korea, the government is still making great strides toward implementing recycling schemes across the board.

Furthermore, Singapore is fast becoming one of the biggest recyclers in the world, and it’s continuing on an upwards trend. 

33. Sweden Is the Best At Avoiding Landfills

On average, only 1% of the waste produced in Sweden is redirected to landfills. 

Furthermore, 47% of the waste is recycled, while 52% gets converted into energy. 

This energy is responsible for powering more than 250,000 households with electricity.

34. A Japanese Town Sets The Trend

Kamikatsu, a mountainside town in Japan’s Tokushima Prefecture, is a zero-waste location. 

It has been separating its waste into 35 sections for years to make the recycling process more efficient. 

Furthermore, Kamikatsu’s population is very involved with recycling and keeping the town on this current trend.

35. Wales Is Aiming For 70% Recycling by 2025

Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom, and it’s currently leading the way in the area when it comes to recycling rates. 

Furthermore, it has already reached its set target of 64% recycling rates and is looking forward to getting to 70% across the country by 2025.

36. Switzerland Makes You Pay For Polluting

A Swiss scheme has been implemented to make companies and individuals alike pay for either not recycling waste or for producing non-recyclable waste. 

The universality of this policy makes everyone aware of how important recycling is, and what the best practices are for it.

37. Austria Bans Particular Waste

Austria has implemented a policy that bans the most polluting waste types from ending up in the landfill.

It also bans any product that has a carbon emission rate of over 5%. 

This means that non-biodegradable material very rarely ends up polluting the ground or the air. 

Furthermore, Austria has been working on its environmental policies since 1993.


Recycling has become an essential tool for today’s society. With the effects of climate change becoming more apparent every day, individuals have to do everything in their power to preserve the environment.

Across the globe, recycling policies are being implemented every day that provide data and statistics that give some hope for upward trends regarding recycling rates. The more awareness there is, the more results will continue to improve in the future.


  • Jean Richardson

    Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

Leave a Comment