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by Mark Carpenter | Nov 13, 2014

Younger Americans Not as “Green” as Older Generations

As America Recycles Day approaches, Harris Poll shows young people are less likely to recycle, understand benefits

(Washington, DC) – While conventional wisdom dictates millennials are more environmentally-conscious than older generations, their attitudes toward recycling begs to differ and suggest they may not be as “green” as we thought. According to a recent survey conducted online in November among over 2,000 U.S. adults by Harris Poll on behalf of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), younger American adults ages 18-34 are significantly less likely to say they always recycle (33% vs. 48% of those ages 35+).  In addition, younger Americans ages 18-34 are less likely to say that recycling is the socially responsible thing to do (61% vs. 53% of those ages 65+), and that it is critical to reducing energy consumption (36% vs. 46% of those ages 55-64) and will help reduce landfill space (45% vs. 60% of those ages 45+). Younger adults ages 18-34 are also more likely to say they wish they recycled more than any other age group (37% vs. 22% of those age 35+). These are some of the key findings in a national survey released today by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) in conjunction with America Recycles Day taking place on Saturday, November 15.

“Over the last several decades communities have strived to make recycling easier through curbside pickup, drop off locations, convenient public cans located near trash cans, recycling drives, and more. There are corporate buy-back programs and in-store drop-offs for recyclables as well,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “That is why it is so disappointing and shocking to see young people not fully understanding the value of recycling.  Clearly, more needs to be done both to encourage recycling and better comprehend why younger generations aren’t seeing the energy, environmental, and economic benefits that recycling provides.”

According to the poll, Americans would like to see more readily available options to recycle. The vast majority (90%) of Americans think that recycling collection sites need to be more readily accessible to consumers. Furthermore, 68% believe that manufacturers and/or retailers should pay for recycling programs when they are not already available to consumers, while 62% think the government should pay for these recycling programs.

Other key findings include:

  • An overwhelming majority of Americans (94%) say they recycle, but those ages 35+ (48%) are significantly more likely than those ages 18-34 (33%) to say they always recycle. Those ages 65+ (54%) are also more likely to say this than those ages 35-44 (43%).
  • A majority (68%) of Americans believe recycling is the right thing to do, but the percentage decreases as age goes down, with only 62% of adults 18-34 holding the belief compared to 78% of adults ages 65+.
  • More than half of Americans say recycling is the socially responsible thing to do (55%), but older adults ages 65+ are more likely than those ages 18-34 to believe this (61% vs 53%, respectively).
  • 40% of Americans believe recycling is critical to reduce energy consumption, but older adults ages 65+ are more likely than those ages 18-34 to say this (46% vs 36%, respectively).
  • Some Americans have doubts about recycling as 26% say they are not always certain if an item is recyclable and 6% say they don’t believe the items they set aside for recycling are actually recycled. Younger Americans ages 18-34 (33%) are more likely than those ages 35-64 (22%) to say they are not always certain if an item is recyclable.
  • More than 3 in 5 (62%) Americans agree that if a product is not easy/convenient to recycle, they probably would not recycle it.

Survey Methodology
This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of ISRI from November 3-5, 2014 among 2,013 adults ages 18 and older. 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.


The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI)
ISRI is the Voice of the Recycling Industry™. ISRI represents more than 1,600 companies in 21 chapters nationwide that process, broker and industrially consume scrap commodities, including metals, paper, plastics, glass, rubber, electronics and textiles. With headquarters in Washington, DC, ISRI provides safety, education, advocacy, and compliance training, and promotes public awareness of the vital role recycling plays in the U.S. economy, global trade, the environment and sustainable development.