Poll: If Americans Are Expected to Recycle, It Needs to Be Made Easy

Survey indicates brands can help improve recycling behavior

recycling poll survey

(Washington, DC) – While traditionally the effort to increase recycling rates has focused on education and awareness, a new study among over 2,000 Americans conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of The Institute of Scrap Recycling (ISRI) suggests action by brands and government may play a significant role as well. The poll revealed two-thirds (66%) of Americans agree that “if a product is not easy/convenient for me to recycle, I probably would not recycle it.” The poll also provides insights into ways these two sectors can better drive recycling.“Understanding what is recyclable and what is not, can be confusing,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “The easier it is for people to understand if a product is recyclable, the more likely it is to make its way to the recycling stream. This includes not only making products that are easy to recycle through design for recycling and product labeling, but making recycling convenient through collection efforts.”In addition to finding significance in the ease and convenience of recycling an item, the survey provided the following takeaways for brand owners:

  • The vast majority of Americans would like to see manufacturers and/or retailers display a “Recycling Guide” label on products (similar to the Energy Guide label on appliances) that would detail the parts and percentage of the product that could be recycled and how (81%). Having this information more prominent may help Americans consider these aspects of their product when making a purchase – or it could also encourage recycling of the product or package when disposing of it.
  • Younger Americans (aged 18-34) are more likely to consider the products packaging than older Americans (over 34) – including whether or not the packaging can be recycled (17%/11%), what the package is made of (16%/9%) and whether the package is made from recycled materials (16%/8%). This could be an important aspect for brands targeting the purchasing power of millennials.

“Promoting recycling goes far beyond corporate social responsibility for brands,” said Wiener. “This survey reveals that clearly indicating a products recyclability, as well as, the use of recyclable packaging could have a positive impact on a brand’s bottom line. This makes good economic sense and is a win for the environment.”The survey also found government can also set an example for Americans by prioritizing recyclable materials. In fact, four in five Americans (80%) agree that governments at all levels should prioritize the use of recyclable products/material when making purchasing decisions. Recycling is demand driven, and thus increasing the use of recyclable materials in manufacturing is critical to the success of recycling. This is also an important takeaway for brands participating in the government procurement process.The study also found 86% of U.S. adults agree recycling collection sites need to be more readily accessible to consumers.The survey also looked at American’s attitudes towards curbside collection programs. Detailed results are available online.
Survey Methodology
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of ISRI from September 17-19, 2018 among 2,003 U.S. adults. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Mark Carpenter.