RECYCLING: Survey Measures U.S. Commitment To Recycling

As evidenced by the recent boom in recovery rates and prices paid for recyclables, American support for recycling seems to be at an all-time high. Indeed, 95 percent of Americans currently recycle some items and 63 percent favor the enactment of stricter recycling laws, according to a recent Gallup poll. Business recycling also is on the rise, the poll reported.

Sponsored by Waste Management Inc., Oak Brook, Ill., the poll randomly surveyed 507 consumers, 18 years and older, and 551 executives responsible for their company's recycling program. Results were released at this year's WasteExpo in Chicago.

Despite Americans' zeal to put the materials on the curb, opinion is divided as to who should foot the bill. For example, about half the respondents said that they would be willing to pay $8 more per month to recycle 25 percent of their trash. Less than half (42 percent) thought government should fund recycling programs. Instead, consumers are warming up to the idea of industry-funded programs: 68 percent, for example, believe businesses should pay for the cost of recycling. However, the survey results did not outline how this would be accomplished.

One reason consumers are divided on the financing issue may be due to a poor understanding of the overall costs involved in recycling programs. For example, 42 percent believe the cost of recycling is equal to the cost of regular refuse collection. One third believe recycling costs more, while one in five say recycling costs less. In addition, Americans are unsure whether the sale of recycled materials covers recycling costs.

In spite of this uncertainty, the commitment to recycling is not likely to wane anytime soon. In addition, convenience is critical to increasing the nation's recycling rate. "We found that consumers want local recycling programs and, not surprisingly, they also want recycling to be easy," said Robert Schussel, director of research and analysis at Gallup Chicago. Currently, four in 10 residents are required to separate recyclable items. However, 82 percent said they would be more likely to recycle if they did not have to separate items. Most also prefer curbside recycling to a neighborhood drop-off center.

Meanwhile, the pressure is intensifying for corporate America to recycle and to play a greater role in source-reducing the nation's waste. For example, the vast majority of Americans and executives believe manufacturers should be required to design products with recycled content (see table). Surprisingly, some executives also support industry-funded recycling initiatives. For example, 50 percent of the executives agreed businesses should bear the cost of funding America's recycling programs.

Finally, open communication and public education are key to both business and municipal recycling programs. Successful programs can build awareness through newsletters, posters and seminars, including reports on the program's results and money saved, Waste Management Inc. officials advise.

The Gallup poll was conducted between February and March of this year. The maximum margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points, at a 95 percent confidence level. For a complete copy of the poll results, contact: The Gallup Organization at (312) 357-0199.