RECYCLING FACTS AND FIGURES BY MATERIAL TYPE

ALUMINUM
Americans throw away about 35 billion aluminum cans every year. If all these cans were recycled, we would save an amount of energy equivalent to 150 Exxon Valdez oil spills annually. (State of California Department of Health Services, Toxic Substances Control Program. Handbook from the Toxic Substances Control Program.)

Americans discard enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet every 3 months. (Amoco Foam Products Company. TeacherÍs Recycling Kits.)

The aluminum beverage can returns to the grocerÍs shelf as a new, filled can in as little as 90 days after collection, remelting, rolling, manufacturing and distribution. Consumers could purchase the same recycled aluminum can from a grocer's shelf every 13 weeks or four times a year. (Can Manufacturers Institute 1993. The Great Aluminum Can Roundup.)

Aluminum can recycling saves 95% of the energy needed to make aluminum from bauxite ore. Energy savings in 1992 were enough to light a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years. (Can Manufacturers Institute 1993. The Great Aluminum Can Roundup.)

A recycled six-pack of aluminum cans could save enough energy to drive a car five miles. One can equals the amount of energy a can half-full of gasoline would produce. (San Diego County Office of Education 1991. RAYS — Recycle and You Save.)

One recycled aluminum can saves enough electricity to operate a TV for three hours. (South Carolina Electric & Gas Company. 1991. Recycle-Save Energy.)

COMPOST
In test corn plots in Minnesota, fields treated with both compost and fertilizer achieved yields 17% higher than fields spread with only commercial fertilizer. (R.W. Beck and Associates. 1998. Solid Waste Issues and Answers.)

Americans throw away about 10% of the food they buy at the supermarket. This results in dumping the equivalent of more than 21 million shopping bags full of food into landfills every year. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

One pound of red worms can consume half a pound of food waste every day. (Havstad, C., Nelson, C., & Shaffer, S. Nov. 1991. Compost! A TeacherÍs Guide to Activities & Resources in the East Bay.)

GLASS
Recycling one ton of glass saves the equivalent of 10 gallons of oil. (Indiana Department of Education, 1992. Waste Reduction Guide.)

Most bottles and jars contain at least 25% recycled glass. Glass never wears out and it can be recycled forever. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

Recycling a glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for four hours. San Diego County Office of Education 1991. RAYS — Recycle and You Save.)

LANDFILLS
We dump most of the magazines printed in the US each year (about 8 million tons) into landfills. If we recycled just half of them, we could save over 12 million cubic yards of landfill space. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

More than two-thirds of the material going into the landfills is degradable. However, very little change occurs because moisture is the most important environmental variable of degradation. Landfills are kept as dry as possible to help prevent groundwater contamination from runoff. For example, newspapers are still readable more than 20 years after being thrown away. Food, such as T-bone steaks and hot dogs, remains relatively unchanged for more than a decade. (Dow Chemical Company. 1991. Landfills.)

OIL
A quart of motor oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of water. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

Do-it-yourself oil changes in the US produce at least 200 million gallons of used oil each year. More than half of it is wasted. Recycling can provide enough power for 360,000 homes a year or produce 96 million quarts of high-quality motor oil. (Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. How to Get More Life Out of Dead Batteries (And Used Motor Oil).)

It is easier and cheaper to recycle used oil than to make new oil from crude. One gallon of used oil can produce the same amount of motor oil as 42 gallons of crude oil while requiring about a third of the energy. (Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. How to Get More Life Out of Dead Batteries (And Used Motor Oil).)

PAPER
Americans throw away the equivalent of more than 30 million trees in newsprint each year. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

Americans discard 4 million tons of office paper every ear. That‘s enough to build a 12 foot-high wall of paper from New York to California. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

Recycling half the world’s paper would free 20 million acres of forest land. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

Recycling one stack of newspapers about six feet tall saves the life of one tree 35 feet tall. Recycling approximately one ton saves 17 trees. San Diego County Office of Education 1991. RAYS — Recycle and You Save.)

If you stacked up all the paper an average American uses in a year, the piles would be as tall as a two-story house. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save The Earth. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel.)

If you and your family recycled a ton of writing paper, you would save as much as 7,000 gallons of water. How much water is that? You would have to drink 130 glasses every day for more than a year to get that much water. (Newman, S. & Schwarz, M. 1993. 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Recycle. Berkeley, CA: EarthWorks Press.)

The EPA has found that making paper from recycled materials results in 74% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution. This means that every ton of recycled paper keeps almost 60 pounds of pollutants out of the atmosphere that would have been produced if the paper had been manufactured from virgin resources. (Paper Stock Institute. 1990. “Why Recycle Paper?” Recycling Paper.)

More than a half-million trees are used to produce the 88% of Sunday newspapers that are never recycled. (Exxon Chemical Company. May 15, 1992. Chemtalk.)

Every ton of recycled paper saves approximately four barrels of oil, 4200 kilowatt hours of energy and enough energy to heat and air-condition the average North American home for almost six months. (South Carolina Electric & Gas Company. 1991. Recycle — Save Energy.)

PLASTICS
Plastics are made from petroleum - a limited nonrenewable resource. It is predicted that by the year 2040, the Earth‘s usable petroleum reserves will have been depleted. (State of California Department of Health Services, Toxic Substances Control Program. Handbook from the Toxic Substances Control Program.)

It takes 1,050 recycled milk jugs to make a 6-foot plastic park bench. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

If you lined up all the polystyrene foam cups made in just one day, they would circle the earth. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

Plastics are the fastest growing share of the US wastestream, accounting for 5% of household throwaways. Every American uses almost 200 pounds of plastic in a year — 60 pounds of it for packaging. (San Diego County Office of Education 1991. RAYS — Recycle and You Save.)

In 1987, the US used almost 1 billion barrels of oil — enough to meet the nation“s oil demand for imported oil for five months — just to make plastics. (San Diego County Office of Education 1991. RAYS — Recycle and You Save.)

When buried, some plastic materials may last for 700 years. (Manufacturers add inhibitors that resist the decomposition process necessary to break down the plastic.) (San Diego County Office of Education 1991. RAYS — Recycle and You Save.)

Americans use 4 million plastic bottles every hour — yet only one bottle out of four is recycled. (Newman, S. & Schwarz, M. 1993. 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Recycle. Berkeley, CA: EarthWorks Press.)

Americans make enough low density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic every year to shrink-wrap the state of Texas. Most if it ends up in landfills. (Newman, S. & Schwarz, M. 1993. 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Recycle. Berkeley, CA: EarthWorks Press.)

Plastics are part of the wastestream. Although they account for only 8% of the waste by weight, they occupy about 20% of the volume in a landfill due to their low bulk density. (Exxon Chemical Company. May 15, 1992. Chemtalk.)

STEEL
About 70% of all metal is used just once and then discarded. The remaining 30% is recycled. After five cycles, only one-fourth of 1% of the metal remains in circulation. (Hayes, D. 1978. ñRepairs, Reuse, Recycling — First Steps Towards a Sustainable Society.î Worldwatch Paper 23.)

Every year enough energy is saved by recycling steel to supply Los Angeles with nearly a decade’s worth of electricity. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

Making tin cans from recycled steel takes only one-fourth of the energy needed to make them from new steel and creates only one-fourth of the water and air pollution created by making cans from new steel. (Newman, S. & Schwarz, M. 1993. 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Recycle. Berkeley, CA: EarthWorks Press.)

Americans use 100 million steel cans a day. We throw away enough steel every year to build all the new cars made in America. (Newman, S. & Schwarz, M. 1993. 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Recycle. Berkeley, CA: EarthWorks Press.)

WASTE
In 1987, Americans generated almost enough trash to fill a 24-lane highway one foot deep from Boston to Los Angeles. (City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii State Department of Education & Recycling Association of Hawaii. October 1990. Recycle Hawaii -for Kids. 1st edition)

In the United States, we throw away 18 billion disposable diapers per year at a cost of 15-35 cents each (diaper services charge 7-20 cents per diaper). (Indiana Department of Education, 1992. Waste Reduction Guide.)

Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild the entire American air fleet 71 times, enough steel to reconstruct Manhattan and enough wood to heat 5 million homes for 200 years. (San Diego County Office of Education. 1991. RAYS- Recycle and You Save.)

Americans represent only 5% of the world’s population, but generate 30% of the world’s garbage. (Thurston County Public Works. October 1992. Trash Flash.)

In the United States, we throw away enough garbage per day to fill 63,000 garbage trucks which each hold 7-14 tons of trash. On an annual basis, we fill up enough garbage trucks to form a line that would stretch from the earth halfway to the moon. (Indiana Department of Education, 1992. Waste Reduction Guide.)

In a lifetime, the average American will throw away 6500 times his or her adult weight in garbage. If you add it up, this means that a 150 pound adult will leave a legacy of 90,000 of trash for his or her children. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

United States waste disposal is expected to cost $100 billion by the year 2000. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

For every $1000 of fast food sales, 200 pounds of trash is created. (San Diego County Office of Education 1991. RAYS — Recycle and You Save.)

Americans make more than twice as much trash per person as people of other countries such as Japan and Germany. (San Diego County Office of Education 1991. RAYS- Recycle and You Save.)

MISCELLANEOUS
Only about one-fourth of the paper, aluminum, iron and steel used in the world is recovered for recycling. (Chandler. 1983. Worldwatch Paper 56.)

An average American uses eight times the natural resources of the average world citizen and produces five times the air pollution of the average world citizen. (Town of Islip. 1988. WRAP.)

The world’s forests are being destroyed at the rate of one acre per second. Every 16 minutes, a forest the size of New York’s Central Park is destroyed. Every day, a forest the size of Philadelphia (74,000 acres) is lost and every year, an area the size of Pennsylvania (27 million acres) is ruined. (City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii State Department of Education & Recycling Association of Hawaii. October 1990. Recycle Hawaii -for Kids.1st edition and Town of Islip. 1988. WRAP.)

To date, scientists have named 1.4 million species of plants and animals, but estimate that between five and thirty million share our planet. Tropical rain forests, which are home to about half of all Earth’s plant and animal species, are being destroyed at the rate of 100 acres per minutes. (State of California Department of Health Services, Toxic Substances Control Program. Handbook from the Toxic Substances Control Program.)

Sixty percent of the world’s lead supply comes from recycled car batteries. Virtually 100% of the car batteries returned to gas stations and battery dealerships get recycled. (EarthWorks Group. 1990. The Recycler’s Handbook. Berkeley, CA: The EarthWorks Press.)

Recycling has created an estimated 30,000 jobs since 1970. In 1985, an estimated 2 million aluminum can collectors earned over 200 million dollars for their recycling efforts. (“At Glance.” June 1988. Waste Age. p. 3)

Try these links to other lists of fun facts and interesting tidbits.

Recycling Economic Information (REI) Project Results describes the REI project‘s efforts to quantify the economic impact of recycling nationally.

NRC Site Map

NERC - Environmental Benefits of Recycling

Chart detailing benefits of recycling each material

Recycling resources

Benefits of Recycling — published by the Natural Resources Defense Council

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