The concept of recycling has been around for thousands of years, ever since we found that metals could be reformed and ceramics ground down to reuse their base materials. It was turned into an actual effort in 1895 with the first recognized waste refuse and recycling program in the U.S. It morphed into a movement throughout the 70s with numerous promotions and programs. And now recycling has grown into the poster child for sustainability. In most consumers’ minds “recycling” and “green” are synonyms – so if I simply recycle, I’m being green and doing my part. Case closed.
So why then, after thousands of years of advancement and decades of promotion, does recycling need another promotional campaign? I mean, surely we’ve got it right by now – right?
Here’s the problem: perhaps because recycling seems so pervasive – and like an actual habit now – 2/3 of Americans claim they recycle nearly everything. But that’s not actually true.
- Although the number of plastic bottles recycled in the U.S. has grown every year since 1990, the percentage of the total bottles produced that are actually recycled has remained steady at ≈ 27%.
- Only 8% of the total plastic waste is currently recycled.
- Currently, only 50% of aluminum beverage cans are recycled in the U.S.
- Of the 11.5 million tons of glass waste generated by the U.S. each year, only 27% is recycled.
- The average person in the U.S. generates 334 pounds of paper and cardboard waste each year. Only 63% of this waste is recycled.
There is a major recycling deficit in this country and the promotional messaging over the last few years hasn’t done enough to bridge the gap. It seems that we just aren’t recycling as much as we’re able to. It’s probable that we’re all on autopilot, presuming we’ve fully checked the recycling box (because we do it sometimes) when we really haven’t.
So here’s a pop quiz:
- Do you recycle in your car?
- Are you recycling only the same things you were last year?
- Do you recycle in the bathroom?
- Do you know how your recycle facility feels about what you put in the bin?
- Have you thought about composting?
These are a few of the simple questions that got my head buzzing about my own recycling practices while reinforcing the need for a new direction in recycling communication. We need a campaign today that goes beyond banging the same old recycling drum. That message has taken us as far as it can. We now need communication that digs deeper, opening the eyes of Americans to the fact that they aren’t recycling everything or everywhere they can.
We’re in the process of creating that communication campaign right now. Stay tuned for updates as we push forward on this effort that we believe will wake Americans up to their recycling realities and nudge them to change their recycling behaviors.
Until then, think about your own recycling practices and ask yourself this simple question “Are you really as awesome as you think you are?”