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National Non-Profit Unveils Strategy to Help U.S. Recycling System Achieve its Full Potential

The ultimate fate of recycling rests in the hands of a broad set of stakeholders who must all take action to support the transition to a circular economy

FALLS CHURCH, Va., (Feb. 13, 2020) – For curbside recycling in the United States to deliver its enormous potential economic and environmental benefits, new and substantial action must be taken by all stakeholders, according to The Recycling Partnership’s 2020 State of Curbside Recycling Report.

The report finds that only half of Americans have the same level of access to curbside recycling as they do to trash, some who have access do not participate, and not all who participate do so fully. As a result, only 32% of what’s available to capture in single-family homes in the U.S. is recycled, leaving more than 20 million tons of curbside recyclable materials lost to disposal each year.

The system also faces serious headwinds that are causing many communities to adjust their programs, but the overwhelming majority of communities across the U.S. remain committed to providing household recycling services, just as Americans also continue to value and demand recycling as an essential public service according to The Recycling Partnership’s 2019 Earth Day survey.

“It is clear that unless stakeholders from across the value chain align and step up, we will not be able to drive the change necessary to move recycling in the U.S. to the next level,” said Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership. “Every day we hear from citizens, communities, policymakers, corporate leaders, and other NGOs who all want the same thing – a stronger recycling system. It will take bold public-private partnership and leadership to make lasting improvements. Now is the time for action.”

The Recycling Partnership’s Bridge to Circularity report (released Fall 2019) detailed steps to close the gap between future increased demand for recyclables as manufacturing feedstock and current supply, not just for plastics, but for all materials. The Recycling Partnership’s 2020 State of Curbside Recycling report reinforces that call to action, providing a snapshot of the challenges facing the U.S. curbside recycling system and recommending a set of integrated strategies to help it achieve its full potential as Recycling 2.0.

“This is an important point in time to pivot our society’s current make-to-waste approach to a more circular economy – one that focuses on everything from smart chemistry and design, production, all the way through to reuse and recycling,” said Harrison.

The 2020 State of Curbside Recycling report calls for these clear, integrated strategies:

  • Substantially greater support of community recycling programs with capital funding, technical assistance, and efforts to strengthen and grow local political commitment to recycling services.
  • New and enhanced state and federal recycling policies.
  • Continued and expanded investment in domestic material processing and end markets.
  • Citizen and consumer engagement to sustain robust and appropriate recycling behavior.
  • Continued innovation in the collection, sorting and general recyclability of materials, including the building of flexibility and resiliency to add new materials into the system.
  • Broader stakeholder engagement in achieving all elements of true circularity, in which the fate of all materials is not just intended to be recycled, but that they are designed, collected, and actually turned into something new.

If these strategies are fully implemented, the study’s analysis shows that a fully-realized next generation of recycling could reap enormous benefits, including:

  • Generating 370,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs
  • Reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 96 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent
  • Conserving an annual energy equivalent of 154 million barrels of oil
  • And achieving the equivalent of taking more than 20 million cars off U.S. highways.

“The state of the planet’s health demands dedicated and swift action to protect natural resources and abate climate change,” says Harrison. “The Recycling Partnership stands ready to take on this challenge and calls on the many public and private sector stakeholders to join in building a circular economy. Together.”

Read more about The Partnership’s latest findings about economic and environmental impacts and learn about the current U.S. household recycling landscape in The Recycling Partnership’s 2020 State of Curbside Recycling Report here.

About The Recycling Partnership 

The Recycling Partnership (recyclingpartnership.org) is a national nonprofit organization that leverages corporate partner funding to transform recycling for good in states, cities, and communities all across the United States. As the only organization in the country that engages the full recycling supply chain from the corporations that manufacture products and packaging to local governments charged with recycling to industry end markets, haulers, material recovery facilities, and converters; The Recycling Partnership positively impacts recycling at every step in the process. The Recycling Partnership has served more than 1,400 communities and counting with best-in-class tools, data, resources and technical support helped place more than 700,000 recycling carts, reached 74 million American households, and helped companies and communities invest more than $57 million in recycling infrastructure. In doing so, The Recycling Partnership has created meaningful social, environmental, and economic change. By the end of 2019, the nonprofit change agent estimates it diverted 230 million pounds of new recyclables from landfills, saved 465 million gallons of water, avoided more than 250,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases, and driven significant reductions in targeted contamination rates.