Recycling of U.S. municipal solid waste 1960-2017

One of the first mass recycling programs in the United States was implemented in 1970 in Hawaii. Since then, the recovery of municipal solid waste (MSW) for recycling has increased, reaching 67.2 million tons in 2017.

U.S. recycling since China’s plastic import ban

China was once the largest purchaser of plastic imports from the United States, but in 2017, China implemented a ban on the import of most plastic waste, with the exception of only the highest quality plastics. Instead, countries like Vietnam, Turkey, and Malaysia have taken on the burden of plastic waste. Much of the previously exported plastic waste must now be dealt with domestically, and many municipalities are struggling, finding that many plastic products cannot be recycled. Since the ban, many cities have been unable to keep up with the volume of recycled goods, and hundreds of local recycling programs have collapsed.

Single stream recycling

In the United States, single stream recycling is commonly used by material recovery facilities (MRFs). This system allows many different types of recyclables, including paper, plastic, metal, and glass to be placed into one container and is then collected and sorted within the MRF. Single stream recycling tends to increase recycling rates due to its ease, encouraging consumers to recycle. However, allowing consumers to put all materials into one waste bin increases contamination such as broken glass or presence of non-recyclable items. Single stream recycling tends to decrease the quality of materials recovered.

Recovery of U.S. municipal solid waste for recycling from 1960 to 2017

Recovery for recycling in million tons
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Release date

November 2019


United States

Survey time period

1960 to 2017

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Statistics on "Municipal solid waste in the U.S."

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