New ISRI Poll Provides Solutions on How Brands & Communities can Help Recycling Efforts

A new study among over 2,000 Americans conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) shows that brands and communities may play a significant role in determining if people will recycle. The poll reveals 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 survey also provides insights into ways these two sectors can better drive recycling. Furthermore, the data indicates how curbside recycling programs in the U.S. are perceived and provides insights on how they can be strengthened to improve the quality and supply of recyclable material.

“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.

Nearly 8 in 10 Americans have curbside programs where they live (79%). Of those with programs, almost 9 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 to those who believe they can be improved (43% to 45%). Only 12% believed it 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 Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “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 ways such programs could be improved in their community. More than half feel more public education would help (54%). Outside 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%).

Punitive actions designed to encourage households to better recycle are among the least popular options:

  • Allow collectors to refuse pickup of non-recyclable materials and leave them at the curb (18%)
  • Implementation of fines for 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.”

The survey also looked at the roles brands play in encouraging recycling. Detailed results are available online.

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.


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Rachel Bookman
Director, Communications
(202) 662-8518