The 50 States of Recycling: A State-by-State Assessment of Containers and Packaging Recycling Rates

30th March 2021

by Sarah Edwards, Sydnee Grushack

Eunomia were commissioned by Ball Corporation to produce a research report presenting the first state-by-state comparison of recycling rates for common container and packaging materials (CCPM) in the US.

The report is the first of its kind and is intended to set baseline data for each state that can be leveraged to inform policy, design programs and assess infrastructure proposals and improvements. Good data is the foundation of good policy, the report underlines, and improved data collection and reporting will support a more accurate picture of US recycling across states in the future.

The report presents recycling rates for CCPM (plastic bottles and trays, glass bottles and jars, aluminium cans, steel cans and cardboard and boxboard) in terms of material reprocessed rather than material collected for recycling using 2018 data sourced from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states, counties, municipalities, sorting facilities and material processors.

The study ranked each state according to its recycling rate for CCPMs in 2018, with the 10 states with the best recycling rates comprising: Maine (72%); Vermont (62%); Massachusetts (55%); Oregon (55%); Connecticut (52%); New York (51%); Minnesota (49%); Michigan (48%); New Jersey (46%); and Iowa (44%).

Key takeaways from the report include:

  • States with more comprehensive and current recycling data and a state-led reporting system achieve higher recycling rates than those with poor data quality, underlining the importance of accurate measurement for circular economy objectives.
  • Material collection rates are not an accurate representation of recycling, due to the presence of contaminants that get thrown out before being turned into new products.
  • Recycling polices such as Deposit Return Systems (DRS), kerbside recycling, and extended producer responsibility (EPR) are vital to effective recycling systems – eight out of the top 10 recycling states have a DRS.
  • Not all recycling achieves the same impact when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and materials that have the greatest carbon impact should be prioritized for recycling – recycling one tonne of aluminium has a GHG reduction benefit three times greater than recycling one tonne of cardboard.

You can view the Technical Appendix to this report here.

This report is available free of charge. Press the orange button and provide a few details about yourself to access the download.