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Half of a Half Equals a Whole Lot of Potential

Image Credit: The Recycling Partnership/Twitter

This is the first in a three-part series from The Recycling Partnership on collaborating to drive effective engagement – and action – around recycling.

Attention! Recycling needs you. 

Wait, we’re still talking about recycling? Yep, and here’s the kicker: While recycling feels universal, it’s currently only functioning at 50 percent of its potential.

By our assessment, the U.S. has 46 million tons of recyclable materials entering our homes annually and only 24 million tons are recovered for recycling – all while an entire industry waits for that material as necessary feedstock for manufacturing. It’s a supply chain in distress and sustainability report metrics for the making.

In late 2016, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition released a wide-reaching study on where recycling was available and found something that surprised many – that curbside recycling is only available to just more than 50 percent of U.S. single-family households. Further, as shown in our own research, average curbside recycling programs are recovering only 35 to 45 percent of the available recyclables in the home. 

In other words, roughly half of American households can recycle at the curb, and those that can are still only recycling half of what’s available; consider all those lost materials and greenhouse gases.

While that might seem that the proverbial glass is half of half empty, the flip side is that there is a huge opportunity for those companies that are looking to boost recycling and bolster their triple bottom line.

Until it is as easy for a household to recycle as it is to throw something away, we have a job to do – people want it, industry needs it, and the Earth ultimately depends on it. 

Good for the cities, good for the system

In the past two years, The Recycling Partnership has helped more than 250 communities up their recycling game and that makes us smile. What does it look like to give recycling to a community that hasn’t had it before? It’s an exciting picture. Residents really want to recycle and, when given the opportunity, they celebrate and participate. You wouldn’t believe how many people tweet photos of members of their family inside shiny new recycling carts.

According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, 80 percent of consumers think that companies can take actions to increase profits and improve the community in which they operate. That’s why more than 25 important brands and organizations are partnering to support our effort. Whether it’s bringing recycling carts to in Santa Fe, New Mexico; giving St. Paul, Minnesota fiscal support to leverage its existing infrastructure; or partnering with investments from the Closed Loop Fund to bring single-stream recycling done right to Memphis, Tennessee, the work we do ensures the environment is protected and communities thrive.

Recycling is a loosely connected yet highly dependent series of industries – and all of those industries need to prosper to make it work. Together we can make that happen. And we have to; the world is counting on us.

In part two and three of this three-part series, we will highlight how we are leveraging partnerships for more recovery and how we can fill underutilized recycling infrastructure.

Read part two, A Circular Economy: You’re Not in It Alone, So Why Go It Alone? here.


Dylan de Thomas has a passion for real recycling and helping the recycling industry thrive as a business that drives sustainability and creates jobs in the U.S and around the world. Dylan is the VP of Industry Collaboration for [Read more about Dylan de Thomas]