Study examines recycling availability

Study examines recycling availability

Sustainable Packaging Coalition-led study also looks at availability of recycling for 49 categories of packaging.

January 16, 2017

Of the 2,500 communities studied in the “2015-16 Centralized Study of Availability of Recycling,” 73 percent of U.S. consumers had access to curbside recycling, while 21 percent had access to drop-off recycling programs, meaning 94 percent of U.S. consumers have access to recycling. However, only 60 percent of consumers have curbside receptacles for their recyclables, according to Adam Gendell of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), who added that that information is very different from the 94 percent of consumers who have access to recycling.

In a Jan. 12, 2017, webinar hosted by Plastics Industry Association, Washington, Gendell, associate director of the SPC, a project of GreenBlue, Charlottesville, Virginia, presented the findings of this study, which was an industry collaborative on the availability of recycling programs in the United States and the types of packaging accepted in those programs. The report was prepared by RRS, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Moore Recycling Associates Inc., Sonoma, California, and commissioned by SPC. 

Of the 73 percent of consumers with access to curbside recycling programs, 53 percent are  “automatically” provided recycling services, while the other 20 percent must subscribe or opt-in to their communities’ recycling programs, according to the study.

“If there are hoops to jump through, about 1 in 3 households will do so,” Gendell said of the portion of the population with a subscription or opt-in curbside recycling program who elect to participate and receive a curbside recycling receptacle.

Gendell said that only 21 percent of the population live in communities that extend their curbside recycling programs to multifamily units.  

Of the communities with curbside recycling programs, he said 53 percent were automatic municipal programs, while 6 percent were voluntary municipal programs and 14 percent were hauler-based programs that charged a fee to recycle, according to the study’s findings.

Of the curbside recycling programs, 89 percent used single-stream collection, prompting Gendell to say, “Single stream is still here to stay.” Additionally, 44 percent of curbside recycling programs used rolling carts, which he added “result in a pronounced increase in recyclables delivered to the MRF.”

Additionally, the study's findings into the acceptance of 49 types of packaging in recycling programs help to substantiate recyclability claims on packaging in compliance with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's guidance for environmental marketing claims. National acceptance rates for every packaging type studied are given in broadened figures in this report, and detailed information on acceptance rates is presented in a series of reports issued to the various project partner organizations, the SPC says.

Of the packaging studied, the following can be recycled by 60 percent or more of consumers:

  • PET (polyethylene terephthalate), HDPE (high-density polyethylene), PP (polypropylene), LDPE (low-density polyethylene), LLDPE (linear-low-density polyethylene), PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and other bottles/jugs and jars;
  • bottle caps;
  • PET cups, containers/trays, clamshells and lids;
  • PP cups, tubs/containers (including buckets smaller than 5 gallons) and clamshells;
  • LDPE/LLDPE tubs (including buckets smaller than 5 gallons);
  • aluminium beverage cans;
  • glass beverage bottles;
  • aluminium and steel aerosol cans; and
  • steel food cans.

The packaging that can be recycled by 20 to 60 percent of the population includes:

  • PP and LDPE/LLDPE lids;
  • PVC nonbottle rigid packaging (blisters/formed packaging);
  • PVC clamshells;
  • PS cups, containers, clamshells and lids;
  • bulky plastic (buckets, crates and baskets) without resin codes and those with resin codes;
  • 5-gallon and larger plastic buckets;
  • cartons;
  • molded fiber food packaging;
  • aluminium foil food packaging;
  • frozen food boxes; and
  • coated nonfoodservice paper containers.

Those packages that can be recycled by less than 20 percent of the population are:

  • HDPE, LDPE and LLDPE tubes;
  • PP cutlery;
  • PS cutlery;
  • PS foam cups, trays/containers and clamshells;
  • EPS (expanded polystyrene) packaging shapes (protective or transport packaging);
  • paper cups and take-out clamshells, containers and trays; and
  • paper ice cream tubs.

The results of the study can be downloaded at