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National Database Provides Real-Time Comprehensive Source for U.S. Recycling Information

Digital tools will offer individuals, companies, and government access to localized recycling program details 

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (March 2, 2022) – The Recycling Partnership announced today that it has developed a National Recycling Database, offering a comprehensive source for local recycling information across the U.S.  This first-of-its-kind database, and the community outreach and product design tools based on this data, will empower households, manufacturers, retailers, brands, policymakers, environmental organizations, and government officials to understand how individual recycling programs are conducted, what materials are recyclable at the local level, and ultimately how to improve packaging recyclability.

The U.S. recycling system is not a unified or governmental entity, but rather a network of 9,000+ separate local recycling programs.  Each individual program has specific parameters for which materials can be recycled, and municipalities collect recyclables in different ways.  This is the first time that a systematic search of community programs has been completed and aggregated into a database that will be able to answer questions for consumers, companies, and recycling professionals, such as “Is this container recyclable in my town?”, “How do we design packaging for recyclability?”, and “How can we improve recycling in my community?”  The Recycling Partnership’s National Database contains continuously updated data that will make it possible to answer these questions and more through a suite of tools that are currently under development.

With generous support from Apple, The Recycling Partnership created the first database that indicates what materials are accepted for recycling based on specific community programs, versus general information about what’s recyclable in an area.  This complex database incorporates research of all local U.S. recycling websites with communities of over 2,500 households (97% of the U.S. population) and a custom neural network that captures local recycling changes as they occur.  With this first-ever resource, the country is taking a bold step towards the innovative system of the future.  A video showing how the database works can be found here.

The Recycling Partnership is actively working to deliver a series of digital tools that will harness the breadth and depth of the database for multiple audiences.  The first offering will be a chat-bot tool – available this Spring through both The Recycling Partnership’s website and other online channels – that will answer household recycling questions to address common confusion (e.g., “Is my yogurt container recyclable in my community?”).  The Recycling Partnership will also use the database in tandem with its recent Pathway to Circularity Recyclability Framework, which supports companies in taking action to ensure their product is recyclable.  Though some packaging may require further innovation, the database will allow for the recyclability of these packages to be communicated in real-time to consumers.  Given the power of the National Recycling Database, The Recycling Partnership envisions multiple opportunities to collaborate with communities, App creators, and other partners.  As tools are released, The Partnership will be engaging community and industry partners to get feedback on the data and input on future offerings.

The Recycling Partnership currently uses the database to target investments in strategic ways, focusing on communities that most need support.  Ultimately, the National Recycling Database will fuel the transformation of today’s U.S. recycling system into a system of the future, allowing:

  • Consumers to access trustworthy local recycling information;
  • Local recycling program coordinators to convey updated and correct recycling information to residents;
  • Retailers and brands to design packaging for maximum recyclability;
  • Material producers to determine steps to overcome impediments to recyclability;
  • Policymakers at the state and federal level to determine what is accepted for recycling at the local level.

“We are thrilled to share this powerful database that offers a hyperlocal and a high-level view of the U.S. recycling system at any given moment,” says Aaron Burman, VP of Data & Analytics. “We’ve built a state-of-the-art neural network to detect changes in community websites, but this is really just the data foundation for a suite of tools that will help drive circularity throughout the U.S. economy.”

“Advancing a circular economy requires concerted efforts and focus at all levels of the recycling supply chain,” explains Sarah Dearman, VP of Circular Venture. “The National Database will enable us to strategically affect package design, convey real-time recyclability information, and target action to improve the recycling system where it is needed most so that we can build a circular packaging system of the future together in an informed, cohesive manner.”

To watch a video demonstration of the National Database, click here.

National Recycling Database FAQs

Q.  How did The Recycling Partnership acquire this data?  

Based on Census data, we researched the recycling websites of each U.S. community with 2,500 or more households – equating to 97% of the U.S. population – for publicly available information. Then we developed an advanced artificial intelligence algorithm that detects changes in each community’s program to keep the database up to date. In addition, we work with hundreds of communities each year and keep the database current based on those engagements.

Q. Who is currently using this data?  

The Recycling Partnership is utilizing the data internally to drive strategic investments in the recycling system. We also leverage it to inform the development of our Pathway to Circularity framework. We are building a suite of tools that will leverage this data to help drive all stakeholders in recycling toward a common vision of a circular economy. We are exploring partnerships with numerous companies to integrate this data into their platforms and applications to drive as much positive impact as possible.

Q. Has the data quality been tested with local communities?  

We have selected random communities to verify the accuracy of the machine learning algorithms and have found a 1-3% error rate in the data. As tools are released based on the database, we will be engaging industry and community partners to get feedback on the data, including providing communities with the ability to flag items that are incorrect so that we can verify and update the data accordingly.

Q. How often is the database updated?

The database will be updated continuously, but on a quarterly basis we will release updates with a summary of changes along with any methodology or other community changes.

Q. Is The Recycling Partnership seeking feedback on the database?  

As tools are released based on the database, we will be engaging industry and community partners to get feedback on the data, including providing communities with the ability to flag items that are incorrect so that we can verify and update the data accordingly.

Q. Who will be able to access this data, and how?  

Information from the database will be accessible through a series of digital tools that will be available to consumers, companies, communities, and other audiences. We will also be engaging with community and funding partners to get input on tools or data views that would be beneficial.

Q. Will there be a fee charged to access the database?   

Any information made available via our website will be free of charge.

Q. In addition to the tools specifically mentioned, what other uses does The Recycling Partnership envision for the database?   

Ultimately, it is about improving the recycling system and reducing waste. Having access to real-time information about recycling programs and packaging recyclability information enables us to be even more strategic when investing to improve the system through grants, education and other mechanisms. The National Recycling Database is a powerful tool that can be leveraged in many ways. We welcome other ideas and collaboration opportunities to utilize this valuable resource to drive as much positive impact as possible.