Poll shows Americans value curbside recycling programs, but want improvements

Complaints keyThere is a lot more recyclate available in the United States in the wake of China’s ban on imported recyclable material at the beginning of this year. That has driven municipalities to seek ways to improve collection and sorting methods. A Harris Poll on behalf of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI; Washington, DC) reveals how U.S. curbside recycling programs are perceived and provides insights on how they can be strengthened to improve the quality and supply of recyclable material.

Nearly eight in 10 of the 2,003 Americans surveyed have curbside programs where they live (79%). Of those with programs, almost nine in 10 find the recycling services to be valuable (88%). It is split nearly in half between those who feel these programs are effective and efficient, compared with those who believe they can be improved (43% to 45%). Only 12% believed curbside recycling 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 ISRI President Robin Wiener. “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 how such programs could be improved in their community. More than half feel more public education would help (54%). Apart from education, the most popular recommendations focus on the pickup process:

  • Have more frequent recycling pickups (36%);
  • use separate bins for different recyclable materials (35%);
  • provide larger recycling containers to manage volume (35%).

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

Only a small percentage of survey respondents approved of punitive measures to encourage recycling, such as allowing collectors to refuse pickup of non-recyclable materials and leaving them at the curb (18%) or fining residents who improperly recycle (17%).

“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 material 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.”

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