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Poll: Americans Value Curbside Recycling But Seek Improvements

Poll: Americans Value Curbside Recycling But Seek Improvements
Data provides keys to how communities can improve the quality of recycling programs in wake of China ban.

Since China banned imports of most recyclable material at the beginning of this year, curbside recycling programs in the United States have been in the spotlight. And municipalities have sought ways to improve collection and sortation.

A new study among more than 2,000 Americans conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) reveals how curbside recycling programs in the U.S. are perceived and provides insights on how they can be strengthened to improve the quality and supply of recyclable material.

Nearly eight in 10 Americans have curbside programs where they live (79 percent). Of those with programs, almost nine in 10 find the recycling services to be valuable (88 percent). It is split nearly in half between those who feel these programs are effective and efficient and those who believe they can be improved (43 to 45 percent). Only 12 percent surveyed believe it is not a valuable service.

“With the actions taken by China prohibiting the importation of recyclable material, there has been a fear that this would negatively impact the public perception of curbside recycling,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, in a statement. “On the contrary, Americans have a very positive view of recycling programs in their communities. Where they do seek improvements, there is an opportunity to increase recycling rates, increase quality and create more of a supply of recyclable materials for use in manufacturing products.”

Those surveyed who believe curbside recycling could be improved or was not valuable were asked ways such programs could be improved in their community. More than half (54 percent) feel more public education would help. Outside education, the most popular recommendations focus on the pickup process:

  • Have more frequent recycling pickups (36 percent)
  • Use separate bins for different recyclable materials (35 percent)
  • Provide larger recycling containers to manage volume (35 percent)

There is also an appetite for more public investment in recycling infrastructure to better sort and process materials (28 percent).

Punitive actions designed to encourage households to better recycle are among the least popular options:

  • Allow collectors to refuse pickup of non-recyclable materials and leave them at the curb (18 percent)
  • Implementation of fines for residents who improperly recycle (17 percent)

“The public is very much aligned with the recycling industry’s recommendations when it comes to ways to improve the quality of material coming out of the curbside recycling stream,” said Wiener. “Better sorting techniques, both at the household level and at materials recovery facilities, alone will go a long way in improving the quality and driving demand for these materials. This is an encouraging sign that local governments need to take note of when it comes to investing in recycling infrastructure.”

The survey also looked at the roles brands play in encouraging recycling.

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