The State of Recycling in 2023

The State of Recycling in 2023

Recycling is a common part of many people’s daily lives. Curbside recycling bins line the streets in city neighborhoods, and many public trash cans now have a recycling receptacle right next to them to collect reusable materials. In 2023, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the United States who isn’t at least somewhat familiar with recycling.

This, however, has not always been the case. While many environmentalists and industry leaders argue that our country’s recycling efforts still have a long way to go, there’s no denying that we’ve come a long way in a short time. At the turn of the 20th century, recycling was hardly an idea. Now, it’s a vibrant industry ready to take on waste challenges and transform the world. So, let’s look at how we got here by examining the history of recycling in the United States, the state of recycling today, and how you can contribute to the evolving recycling landscape.

History of Recycling in the United States

The very first recorded instances of large-scale recycling in the United States can be traced back to 1690 when the Rittenhouse Mill opened in Philadelphia and began recycling linen and cotton rags. From there, there’s a sizable gap in our timeline; the next notable developments in recycling didn’t occur until World War II when there was a significant effort to reuse material, save money, and conserve resources to support the war effort.

In the 1960s, we saw a widespread national effort to recycle materials. This was when the first curbside pickup of recycled materials started, and this was also when we reached our first measurable amount of materials recycled. By the 1970s, the Flower Child and Green movements propelled recycling forward, and “going green” and “save the earth” became mainstream mottos across the country. Rapidly filling landfills prompted more recycling and curbside pickup from municipalities, and in 1974, Missouri implemented the first curbside recycling bin for collecting paper.

In 1987, the reminder that America needed regarding the importance of recycling came in the form of the Mobro 4000, also known as “The Garbage Barge.” This ship spent months in the ocean looking for a place to dispose of garbage cargo and garnered substantial media attention.

By the 1990s, recycling was more commonplace in the average U.S. household. In 1995, recycling participation reached 20% among American households. This number jumped to 30% by 1998.

From the 2000s to today, many states have set even more ambitious recycling goals, hoping to get recycling participation at an even higher percentage. Several large companies and corporations have also set goals to have more recycled packaging for their products, and today, it’s common to see packaging and products made from recycled goods on store shelves.

The Current State of Recycling

Today, recycling is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States alone, and millions of tons of materials are recycled each year.

In 2018, the United States recycled 112 million tons of materials. To put this progress into perspective, that’s up from 70 million tons in the year 2000 and just 7 million tons in 1960. The strides that have already been made are huge and worth celebrating. However, a couple of factors need to be taken into consideration with these numbers, including the increase in population over time and the corresponding increase in single-use plastics and packaging.

These days, people are more aware of their impact through recycling, and new technologies have been developed to make recycling more effective and beneficial. For example, AI robots are used in some recycling facilities to sort through recycled materials more efficiently and quickly than humans can. Additionally, some companies are reusing hard-to-recycle materials (like ocean plastics) to create new products every day.

Along with the obvious environmental benefits — reduced litter, less waste in landfills, and more waste kept from entering oceans and waterways — recycling is also good for the economy, generating more jobs than landfills and waste-to-energy plants and producing valuable resources and raw materials for U.S. manufacturing.

How To Be a Responsible Recycler

If you’re interested in contributing to the overall effort to make recycling more effective and beneficial, there are a few practical steps you can take at home.

One of the best things you can do is ensure that your household recyclables are correctly separated. This is especially important with plastics, as some are more widely recycled than others. PET (recycling code 1), HDPE (recycling code 2), and PP (recycling code 5) are the most commonly recycled plastics, and they are likely in your pantry and fridge right now. When recycling plastic containers with these codes, make sure that you remove any caps and labels before tossing them into the recycling bin. This will make them easier to recycle and reduce the likelihood that they end up in a landfill.

Verdeco’s Role in the Recycling Industry

For recycling to be beneficial, recycled materials must be remade into usable material for products and packages. At Verdeco, we take the most commonly used plastic, PET, and create recycled PET (or rPET) that can be used in any application traditionally made with virgin PET. As companies search for high-quality, recycled material to keep their sustainability commitments, they need recycled plastic options. We offer a plastic that meets these needs, benefits the environment, doesn’t require the extrusion of natural resources, and keeps single-use plastics out of landfills.

To learn more about Verdeco and how we’re changing the world, visit


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