New Survey Finds Recycling Too Much Effort for Many Americans

Some Americans believe recycling is too hard and doesn't make any difference.

Challenges to reducing waste

Two-fifths (43%) of U.S. adults still throw away most things instead of recycling them, according to a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults in March 2023 by Reputation Leaders. These non-recyclers say recycling packaging is unclear, recycling is inconvenient, or they don't believe recycling will change anything. 

According to the UN Environment Program, humanity generates an estimated 2.24 billion tons of trash (municipal solid waste) annually, of which only 55 percent is managed in recycling facilities. As mismanaged waste aggravates the triple threat of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, all American citizens and businesses must support better recycling behaviors. 

To raise waste awareness, the UN announced the first International Day of Zero Waste today, March 30, 2023. 

Reputation Leaders has three recommendations for U.S. companies and officials to reduce waste and encourage recycling

Make recycling clearer to understand and more convenient. A third of Americans, who try to recycle as much as possible, say the biggest challenge is knowing what can and can't be recycled. Manufacturers and packaging companies need to clarify what can be recycled and how.  For Americans who don't recycle, four out of ten say the biggest barrier is the inconvenience. This includes tasks like separating their trash into separate bins or cleaning packages before they can be recycled. 

Persuade non-recyclers that recycling can make a difference. People need to believe that their recycling bin matters. 17% of people who aren't recycling say that they don't believe it will change anything or that the benefits make it worthwhile. This is a trust issue, where the onus is on brands and governments to prove that recycling is taking place and positively impacts the environment. 

Recyclable, reusable products are good sense and good business. Over half (56%) of American adults are more likely to purchase brands that can be easily recycled, repaired, repurposed, or reused. Designing reusable, durable products decreases production intensity and encourages consumers to alter unsustainable consumption patterns. 

Reputation Leaders conducted their Reputation Pulse ahead of International Day of Zero Waste to help draw attention to this crisis. Our study of this issue is available as a full report on our website.


Reputation Leaders ran a U.S. national online survey from March 23-27, 2023, to explore American attitudes and behaviors towards waste and recycling. The survey was conducted among 1,000 U.S. adults aged 18 and over, matching the U.S. demographic profile by age, gender, and region. Full results are downloadable from

Source: Reputation Leaders Ltd

About Reputation Leaders Ltd

Reputation Leaders is a thought leadership and reputation consultancy. We specialize in global research that helps people think about your brand differently, builds reputations, and earns headlines.

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