Recycling Confidence Index

Recycling starts in the home and supporting people is key to its success.  At The Center for Sustainable Behavior & Impact, we know how important it is to make recycling convenient and easy for all. Research and data help to drive this support.  

To begin this system change, as we move toward building a fully functioning U.S. residential recycling system, The Recycling Partnership wanted to gauge peoples’ confidence in their own recycling habits and in their recycling programs overall. 

The Recycling Confidence Index, first launched in August 2022, does that. This first-of-its-kind Index creates a baseline of data that enables us to track, quantify, and qualify recycling confidence over time and identify the factors influencing trust and confidence. We will be repeating the Index research regularly to gauge change over time, which will provide helpful insights for policymakers, community recycling program managers, and everyday Americans. 

Methodology: How the Recycling Confidence Index is Calculated  

The inaugural Index is based on national research that uses both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods, synthesizing insights around American attitudes, benefits, and confidence drivers associated with recycling. The research combines results from over 3,000 national survey interviews and five focus groups spanning the demographic, socio-economic, and geographic diversity of the country. The survey questions were standardized on response scales so they could be averaged, compared, and tracked.  

The Recycling Confidence Index consists of 10 factors that, based on our prior research, measure or impact confidence. This creates a robust assessment of recycling confidence that we can quantify, qualify, and track over time.  

The Recycling Confidence Index is made up of five perceptions-based factors and five programmatic factors. 

  • Perceptions-based Factors: These factors are intrinsic and attitudes-based. They relate to a person’s perceptions and the value people place on recycling.  Intrinsic values and perceptions are more difficult to move, but they are core to a person’s motivation. 
  • Programmatic Factors: These factors measure operational or programmatic elements. Programmatic factors are focused on program support, communications, and knowledge. These can be impacted through local program outreach and work. 

This research into recycling confidence acknowledges that repetitive, sustained participation in recycling requires both programmatic support – such as providing recycling carts and communicating regularly – as well as residents’ perceptions that recycling works well and produces good outcomes.   

Current Recycling Confidence Index
Baseline in Q3 2022 

 The goal of the August 2022 Index is to track confidence over time and to identify and help drive improvement in the factors that can be moved, supporting a system where people CAN and DO recycle. The Index overall scored a 630. The programmatic and perceptions-based factors, which combined inform the overall Index, were 540 and 720 respectively. 

Improving the U.S.  residential recycling system – supporting infrastructure, access, and education for all accepted materials and all Americans will take time, as will increasing confidence. While a “1,000” score would mean everyone is doing everything they can to recycle, everywhere they are, all the time — a high bar — the August 2022 Index is setting a baseline and we hope to see movement in the right direction over time.

540 Programmatic Factors
Recycling Confidence Index
Household Participation Worth the Effort Difficulty Positive Impact Makes a Difference Made Into New Things Individual Knowledge Recycling Service Local Program Education All Needs Met

Household Participation

If you were to rate your household on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means you do not recycle at all, 5 is what an average household does, and 10 means you are “super recyclers” who recycle everything all the time, what score would you give?

Worth the Effort

Recycling is not worth the effort.


Recycling is difficult.

Positive Impact

Recycling has a positive impact.

Makes a Difference

Do you think recycling makes a difference?

Made Into New Things

Do you think the items you recycle are made into new things?

Individual Knowledge

Rate how much you know about what items can be recycled in your local recycling program.  Use a 0 to 10 scale, where 0 means you know very little at all, 5 is average, and 10 means you know everything there is to know about recycling.

Recycling Service

How satisfied are you with each of these local services?

Local Program Education

Have you received or seen any communications from the local recycling program recently, for example within the past 6 or 12 months?

All Needs Met

I have everything I need to do a good job of recycling.

720 Perceptions-based Factors


Learn more about the August 2022 Recycling Confidence Index, including key findings in this blog post