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Is Recycling Worth It? We Set the Record Straight

Is Recycling Worth It? We Set the Record Straight

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We hate to break it to you, but there’s a lot wrong with the recycling industry.

Most people don’t do it correctly, and about a quarter of what arrives at the recycling center gets carted to the landfill. Single stream recycling, the magic that allows you to throw all your recyclables into one bin, increases the costs for the recycling center. Too often, it’s cheaper for manufacturers to use virgin materials rather than recycled materials. That leaves recycling centers storing bales of plastics and paper they can’t sell.

With all these problems, is recycling even worth it? Absolutely, especially when you use the right recycling bags

We’ll tell you all the reasons recycling is still an effective way to turn your eco-anxiety into a world-changing eco-action. 

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Imperfect Recycling Still Gets the Job Done

Even with all the issues surrounding the recycling industry, the U.S. still recycles about 36.8 percent of its non-organic waste, according to the EPA. The most commonly recycled materials, at about 67 percent, are paper and cardboard. We recycle just over a quarter of our glass and almost 20 percent of our aluminum.

The Earth-Saving Potential of Recycling

The United States is the world’s largest producer of waste. Each American generates almost five pounds of garbage each day. Collectively, we generate three times more garbage than our grandparents’ generation, according to the EPA. Currently, we’re only recycling about a third of the 300 million tons of waste we generate annually.

According to The Recycling Partnership (TRP), if everything capable of being recycled were recycled, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be the equivalent of 96 million metric tons. That would be like removing 20 million cars off U.S. roads. All of that recycling would also create 370,000 full-time jobs.

Below, we detail the benefits of recycling specific materials.

Recycling aluminum or metal empty cans top view. Group of cans for reuse and recycle. - Image

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According to The Aluminum Association, this metal is endlessly recyclable. And recycling aluminum saves 95 percent of the energy used to make new aluminum. The profit potential of recycling aluminum helps recycling centers stay in business.

Paper & Cardboard

According to the EPA, recycling one ton of paper saves enough energy to power a home for six months. It would also save 7,000 gallons of water. Recycling one ton of paper also reduces greenhouse gases by the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon.


Plastics for Change reports that recycling one ton of plastic saves 16.3 barrels of oil and saves enough energy to charge a Tesla battery 100 times.


According to the Glass Packaging Institute, recycling a ton of glass saves more than a ton of resources, including 1,300 pounds of sand. Recycling six tons of glass reduces CO2 emissions by one ton.

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Recycling Is Essential to a Circular Economy

A circular economy “decouples economic activity from the consumption of finite resources,” according to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation. Switching to a circular economy saves natural resources and reduces emissions while bolstering economies. It’s an economic system that is both sustainable and profitable. And a circular economy is essential for meeting climate goals.

You can do your part to usher in a circular economy by recycling your waste and purchasing products made from recycled materials. Make sure you buy your Simplehuman garbage bags from We’re committed to a circular economy with our Earth Friendly Policy. 

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Businesses Notice Your Green Habits

As you recycle and incorporate green habits into your life, like using eco-friendly garbage bags, businesses are taking note. According to a recent consumer survey, half of all consumers describe themselves as eco-friendly. As a result, companies are recognizing the rise of eco-consumerism. And with 8 out of 10 consumers expecting companies to be environmentally conscious, the market for recycled materials is increasing.

Recycling Encourages Others

A recent study discovered that once an idea reaches a participation rate of about 37 percent, it catches on like wildfire. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the recycling rate is at about 32 percent. Your participation can help recycling spread in your community and beyond.

Sure, the recycling industry has some flaws. Still, most of what you send to the recycling center gets remade into new material. But recycling’s worth goes far beyond whether your empty milk jug bottle sees new life as composite lumber. The earth-saving potential of recycling is too great to give up on it just because of a few flaws. 

Your recycling habits are essential to developing a circular economy, which most climate experts agree is indispensable to creating a sustainable future. Every time you toss a milk jug in the blue bin, businesses and your neighbors take notice. Your simple act will change their behavior for the better too.

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