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Recycle Coach Issues Survey to Gauge Residents’ Recycling Knowledge

Man with clipboard about to interview another person sitting across from him

Recycle Coach is a company that is revamping the recycling landscape by educating residents through its mobile app. The Recycle Coach app is an integral part of a complete recycling educational platform focused on engaging entire communities to increase their recycling knowledge.

Data suggests that the costs associated with recycling in the past were significantly lower than disposal, but are now up to 5x higher. This shift can be attributed to contamination, which refers to all the items people put in their recycling bin that don’t belong. Contamination rates can be as high as 40% in municipalities across North America, threatening the continuation of local recycling programs.

Garbage and Recycling on a conveyor belt being sorted

The company has just completed a national survey of its users to gauge the level of awareness regarding what their local recycling programs accept or do not accept. This recycling knowledge data is being used to distribute more educational content to residents about their programs to help municipalities lower their contamination rates and increase the amount of viable recovered materials.

Screen shots of images from a survey about recycling knowledge
Screenshots of items surveyed on Recycle Coach’s Annual Recycling Knowledge Survey

A survey was conducted by Recycle Coach that targeted commonly misunderstood materials. The results of the survey show whether or not North American residents have the recycling knowledge about various items’ acceptability in their respective districts. It is important to note that the acceptance of these materials varies by location and while the data shows if respondents knew their program’s rules or not, it does not mean that the materials discussed are or are not accepted across all locations.

Man and woman recycling plastic bottles

When participants were asked about commonly disposed of plastic products, it was surprising to see that of the respondents, 46% did not know whether or not their district offered the option to recycle clear plastic food containers and 45% did not know if their program recycled Tupperware containers. Additionally, 30% were unsure if they were able to recycle plastic cutlery, 27% were unsure of Styrofoam containers, and 27% were also unsure of plastic zip storage bags. Although the number of people who knew they could recycle plastic bottles was at 81%, this is still considered less than ideal given how commonly plastic bottles are accepted.

When asked about their recycling knowledge of paper products, the results were slightly better. Yet a significant percentage of respondents were still unaware of whether or not they could recycle various types of paper waste in their specific program. For instance, only 73% got paper trays and cartons correct, only 65% got juice boxes correct, and only 49% got post-it notes correct. It is troubling to see that 30% of residents think recycling programs accept paper towels and 74% of residents believe their program accepts plastic and bubble mailer envelopes, when no program currently accepts them.

disposable paper coffee cup

It is interesting to note that only 63% of respondents knew the correct disposal methods for paper coffee cups in their area. Disposable coffee cups are only accepted in a select number of areas due to their plastic lining, so this lack of understanding about how to properly dispose of them can lead to both high rates of contamination or conversely, loss of viable recyclable materials—depending on the location.

On the upside, more than 90% of respondents correctly identified that toothpicks, chopsticks, popsicle sticks, and snack food bags and wrappers are not recyclable in their programs. This knowledge of recycling rules shows at least these items are not contributing to the high contamination rates.

There is a significant information gap between residents and their districts when it comes to recycling other more difficult household items like old cell phones, light bulbs, and ceramic flowerpots. Approximately 15% of residents were unaware of the correct disposal method for these types of items.  Only 53% of respondents knew if empty metal paint cans were accepted or not in their local program. While no locations accept glass drinkware, 28% still thought that they could recycle this material. A startling 25% of residents were also unclear on proper battery disposal.

screenshot of Recycle Coach's search functions for recycling knowledge
Type in your search or use image search to find out if items are accepted in your program.

Residents from participating districts were also asked a series of questions to gauge their mindset regarding recycling practices. While 82% of respondents do believe that recycling has a positive impact on climate change, there seems to be a lack of understanding of the correct way to recycle materials. One of the most critical aspects of recycling is to make sure items are empty and clean, yet only 78% of respondents knew about that condition. Recycle Coach encourages residents to look up if items are recyclable in our mobile app’s “What Goes Where” search tool, yet 32% of respondents still believe they should just add items to their recycling if they think it may be recycling. This is what’s called “Wish-cycling” and is one of the leading causes of contamination.

professional business people shaking hands.

When it comes to recycling in the workplace, 95% of the participants have the opinion that workplaces should take on the responsibility to encourage proper onsite recycling. This seems to be a call to action by the residents for businesses to create means for employees to be successful recyclers and impact the environment in a positive way on a larger scale.

Regardless of their recycling knowledge, residents seemed to have mixed feelings about how their recycling programs were performing and informing them about their program. When asked if they believed their municipality was doing a great job performing recycling information and services, only 22% said they strongly agree, 41% said they agree, 18% said they were unsure, 14% said they disagreed, and 5% said they strongly disagreed.

woman holding a recycling loop sign and pointing at the reader

There is still a need to educate the public about the correct disposal of waste. Despite there being a willingness to recycle, many residents still struggle with the proper recycling knowledge for their specific program. Recycle Coach has been working to increase the amount of recycling education available to residents through their mobile app. Recycling correctly will help lower recycling costs, in turn lowering the amount of tax dollars spent on correcting contamination in recycling programs. It is time to get more residents involved in the movement to avoid recycling contamination and increase the proper disposal of recoverable materials.

Download the app today to do your part in lowering the contamination rate.

1 Comment

  1. Christine Rosillo

    December 7, 2021 at 9:40 pm

    Excellent article with statistics about recycling knowledge gaps.

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