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New Study Shows Lack of Bins Is Biggest Barrier to Home Recycling

Image credit: Cone Communications

Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of consumers consistently recycle in the home, but despite a genuine concern for the environment, only about half do so in rooms beyond the kitchen. According to the 2014 Cone Communications Recycling in the Home Survey, in partnership with the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies as part of its Care to Recycle program, there are several key barriers to expanding recycling in the home, including the lack of room-specific recycling bins and clear product labeling.

Although Americans indicate a strong willingness to recycle, good intentions aren’t enough. Consumers state that not having a recycling bin in each room is the number one roadblock to recycling more. In fact, nearly one-in-five (17 percent) said they would recycle more often if they had better or more convenient recycling bins throughout the house. But, the majority (56 percent) of recyclers keeps bins in the kitchen, as opposed to other rooms throughout the house, such as the garage/basement (43 percent), laundry room (21 percent) or bathroom (14 percent).

Bins aren’t the only roadblock to recycling. Consumers also fault not knowing which products or packaging are recyclable and the amount of space recycling requires as additional factors in favor of tossing recyclables in the trash.


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Of the consumers who do recycle, the majority does so because of a genuine concern for the environment (42 percent). Just 10 percent of Americans recycle solely because it is mandatory in their communities. Other motivations to recycle include:

  • Guilt about the amount of trash or waste they create (17 percent)
  • Desire to be a good role model (14 percent)
  • The chance to earn money, rewards or incentives (14 percent)

“Knowledge and convenience go hand in hand when it comes to maximizing the chances a recyclable will make its way through the home and into the recycling bin,” says Paulette Frank, VP of Sustainability at the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies. “Labels build awareness of what is recyclable, and household bins, ideally within arm’s reach, help many of us take the next step of separating recyclables from the trash destined for a landfill.”

When in Doubt, Most Consumers Take Shortcuts

Recycling behaviors at home
Click for full infographic.

Even for the most fervent recycler, labels can improve a product’s chances of being recycled, especially as only one-fifth of recyclers will go the extra mile to research whether a product can be recycled when it is not clearly labeled. Most recyclers take shortcuts by:

  • Only recycling items they already know are recyclable (28 percent)
  • Recycling as many items as they can even if they don’t know they’re recyclable (26 percent)
  • Only recycling items that are clearly labeled (21 percent)
  • Only recycling when convenient (6 percent)

“There’s no question on-pack real estate is at a premium, but clearly, this is where consumers are looking for information,” says Liz Gorman, SVP of Sustainable Business Practices at Cone Communications. “Companies who want to make an impact need to prioritize sustainability messages on their products and make information available through other channels.”

Strongest Recycling Champions — Hispanics and Children

According to the survey, Hispanic consumers are more steadfast than the general public in their commitment to recycling. More than half (53 percent) reports always recycling in the home, compared to 46 percent of the average population. The survey shows Hispanic recyclers also want to ensure products find their way to the proper receptacles — be it a trash can or recycling bin. When recycling, Hispanics said they are:

  • More likely to do additional research to find out if an item is recyclable when it is not clearly labeled (26 percent vs. 20 percent US average)
  • Less likely to toss as many items as they can into the recycling bin even if they don’t know they’re recyclable (20 percent vs. 26 percent US average)

Children also have a vital role to play in helping the household recycle. Parents report their children:

  • Are very motivated to recycle in the home (62 percent)
  • Are always looking for ways to protect the planet (60 percent)
  • Educate the rest of the family about the benefits of recycling (50 percent)

School recycling efforts play a major part in this: According to two-thirds (66 percent) of parents, that is where children learn about the positive impact of recycling.

Companies and Communities Must Encourage Recycling

The chance to earn money or rewards is the number one way consumers say they could be further encouraged to recycle more often at home (41 percent), but they also look to companies or their own communities to provide additional encouragement through education and resources.

Consumers say they would be encouraged to increase their recycling if companies educated them by:

They would also be more apt to recycle if communities provided more resources to do so, including:

  • Offering recycling programs or centers (20 percent)
  • Making it more cost- or time-efficient to recycle (20 percent)
  • Helping consumers understand what types of products can be recycled locally (19 percent)
  • Offering single-stream recycling so they do not have to separate recyclables (15 percent)

“When it comes to improving consumer recycling rates, companies can’t go it alone,” says Gorman. “Consumers are calling for a collaborative approach, asking communities to provide solutions that make recycling less confusing and more convenient so consumers can do their part.”


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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