DECEMBER 2009

Survey of communities shows recycling access widespread

The American Beverage Association (ABA) released a report showing that nearly three in four Americans have access to curbside recycling programs – but the infrastructure is in place for millions more to gain access to this convenient and efficient form of recycling.

The report, prepared independently by the environmental firm R.W. Beck, found that an estimated 229 million Americans, or 74 percent of the total population, have access to some form of curbside recycling at home. The data was compiled through a broad national survey of local recycling officials. Curbside recycling makes it easier and more convenient for people to recycle — and thus more likely to recycle.

While widespread access to curbside recycling is encouraging news, the study underscores the great potential for up to 95 million more Americans to have regular curbside pickup of recyclables. For these Americans, the infrastructure is in place for curbside recycling if two barriers are removed: extending recyclables collection to all who currently have curbside trash pickup and lifting of recycling fees for those who have access to “subscription” curbside recycling service. For example, right now, an estimated 36 to 60 million residents currently have trucks come to their curb to collect their trash but not their recyclables. So the pieces are in place for those same trucks, or entities, providing the trash collection to all to collect recyclable materials at the curbside. Also, subscription services can often be a disincentive for people to participate in existing curbside recycling programs.

The conclusions of this report show greater curbside access than previous studies, which were much less comprehensive. This survey contacted local officials with firsthand knowledge of the recycling programs and was designed to capture a larger sample of the population. Between improved access and other upgrades to existing recycling programs, the United States has significant untapped potential to improve recycling rates within its existing framework.

ABA commissioned the study to determine how many consumers have access to recycling of beverage containers so that it can continue to support efforts to improve access to the most convenient and efficient methods of recycling. The survey methodology combined direct responses from the largest counties and cities in the United States with a sampling approach designed to capture a representative sample of the much more numerous small communities. The survey targeted 280 million people (90 percent of the total population of the United States) and more than 1,200 counties containing 20,000 communities.