Before you do anything else you might want to read the best summary of recycling problems and potential solutions here



Recycling in the U.S. is broken. In 2017, only a third of our waste was either recycled or composted. The reasons are many: we have lost the markets we used to have when we were shipping our recyclables to China, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Kenya and Senegal to name a few countries which used to take our plastics, and often our glass, cardboard and paper. One waste management executive warned that many cities will suffer because collected material now “doesn’t have a place to go.” Hundreds of US cities killed or scaled back their recycling programs — as of early 2020, nearly 90 municipalities have canceled their curbside recycling programs altogether. WasteDive has compiled a  timeline of the changes to recycling procedures in all 50 states.

The lack of a market absolutely upended our recycling industry. We can still find a market for some items (cardboard, for example, if it isn't contaminated with Styrofoam) but, for the most part, municipalities now pay to have the rest removed from their recycling centers.  We don’t make it easy for these centers, throwing non-recyclable items in with recyclable items, contaminating one category of recyclables with another. The result is that much ends up in the ocean, in landfills, or incinerated. Incineration and waste-to-energy plants have been associated with toxic emissions, while landfills emit a slew of harmful pollutants — carbon dioxide, methane, volatile organic compounds, and others. Oceans are filled with plastic waste.

National recycling policy may provide relief and there a handful of notable bills to watch: RECYCLE Act, RECOVER Act, Save Our Seas 2.0, Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, ZERO WASTE Act. Find a legislative tracker of these bills at WasteDive.

Another solution revolves around the circular economy, specifically, the circular plastics economy in which more plastic is reused, and bought. Many consumer brands such as Coca-Cola and Nestlé have announced plans to use recycled plastic in their manufacturing.

What Happens To Your Recycling After Being Collected | One Small Step


Battery recycling is key to a clean future

By Yan Wang 03/16/23
Battery recycling has become an important issue in the United States, and recent efforts by the federal government, private industry and academia suggest that the country is quickly making batteries more easily recycled, reused and…
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Tips for Recycling Computers, Phones, & Other E-waste Successfully

By Daniel Dern 03/08/23
It happens to all of us, when the computer, smartphone, or another electronic device no longer meets our needs. Making your electronics last as long as possible is the most effective way to lower the…
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Less plastic or more recycling – nations split ahead of treaty talks

By Joe Lo 02/22/23
Ahead of talks on a new plastics treaty, nations are split over whether to target reductions in the amount of plastic that is produced or just to try and stop it from polluting land and…
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‘Advanced’ Recycling of Plastic Using High Heat and Chemicals Is Costly and Environmentally Problematic, A New Government Study Finds

By James Bruggers 01/19/23
The plastics industry’s quest to solve the problem of plastic waste through so-called “advanced” recycling—using chemical additives and sometimes extremely high heat to turn waste back into new plastics—is costly and comes with significant environmental…
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What really happens to your clothes after you donate them

By Allyson Chiu 01/04/23
How much of your donated clothing finds a new home or helps someone in need? Far less than you probably might think, experts say....
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Recycling Mystery: Political Yard Signs

By Maureen Wise 11/09/22
Fall and spring are election seasons in the United States when citizens select their representatives and pick their sides on local issues. Political signs sprout up in voters’ front yards to endorse the candidates and…
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Recycling, Like Everything Else, Needs an Upgrade

By Mitch Ratcliffe 10/31/22
Much has been written about last week’s Greenpeace report decrying the state of plastic recycling. Our recycling system is not just broken but considered a joke, a defeatist view that will cost us in the…
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Only 5% of plastic waste generated by US last year was recycled, report says

By Nina Lakhani 10/24/22
Only 5% of the mountains of plastic waste generated by US households last year was recycled, according to new research by Greenpeace. Americans discarded 51m tons of wrappers, bottles and bags in 2021 – about…
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Inside the Global Effort to Keep Perfectly Good Food Out of the Dump

By Somini Sengupta 10/13/22
In Seoul, garbage cans automatically weigh how much food gets tossed in the trash. In London, grocers have stopped putting date labels on fruits and vegetables to reduce confusion about what is still edible. California…
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How to Recycle a 14-Story Office Tower

By Jessica Camille Aguirre 10/06/22
When the Dutch National Bank moved into its Amsterdam headquarters in 1968, the new buildings were epic and stylish. A sprawling Modernist landmark that took up an entire city block off the banks of the…
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Greener Shopping: The Lomi Home Composter Is a Difference Maker

By Mitch Ratcliffe 09/28/22
The Lomi home composter from Pela has caught a lot of attention with extensive marketing on social networks. More than 100,000 have sold to date, according to Pela. We spent two months working with this…
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A New Plant in Indiana Uses a Process Called ‘Pyrolysis’ to Recycle Plastic Waste. Critics Say It’s Really Just Incineration

By James Bruggers 09/11/22
The bales, bundles and bins of plastic waste are stacked 10 feet high in a shiny new warehouse that rises from a grassy field near a town known for its bright yellow smiley-face water tower.…
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WM Phoenix Open Tournament Sustainability Report

The WM Phoenix Open is a zero waste tournament with a balanced carbon and water operational footprint. The use of energy, materials, and water all contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that are harming our…

Tracking the future of US recycling policy in Congress

Spurred by market challenges, the Hill has seen a historic influx of big bills. Keep up on all the latest developments with our legislative tracker.

Sim Municipal Recycling

In 2003, Sims Metal Management, through Sims Municipal Recycling (SMR), expanded into curbside recycling in the United States. SMR has since become a cornerstone of New York City’s recycling system, processing and marketing approximately 500,000…

Should I compost or recycle

Many food service products can be composted or recycled. At restaurants, posters and signage show you what to compost and what to recycle. At home, use this flyer to check your items against the requirements.

Why America’s recycling isn’t working and what you can do about it

Poor recycling habits cost US municipalities $3.2 Billion annually. What are the common challenges local governments are facing? How can you change the narrative in your municipality? Education is critical in countering this problem.

How recycling has changed in all 50 states

Waste Dive began tracking the effects of China's scrap import policies across all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) during fall 2017 for America Recycles Day. We contacted each state environmental agency and found…

BioCycle the organics recycling authority

Published since 1960, BioCycle is the go-to resource on composting, organics recycling, anaerobic digestion and renewable energy.

Climate change becomes widely recognized corporate factor for waste and recycling

While many of the largest companies have been releasing sustainability reports for years, 2019 marked a potential turning point in the level of detail and acknowledgment for this looming issue.

One thing we can do: Fix recycling

Recycling in the United States is broken. For years, we relied heavily on recycling operations in China to take our waste. But that came to an end in 2018, when Beijing barred the import of…

Why America’s recycling isn’t working and what you can do about it

Poor recycling habits cost US municipalities $3.2 Billion annually. What are the common challenges local governments are facing?

Recycling is becoming so expensive that some towns don’t know what to do

WESTFIELD — On a recent afternoon here, with urgency in the air, local officials huddled to consider what until recently was unthinkable. Should they abandon their popular curbside recycling program? Or spend millions to build…

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Learn how reducing, reusing, and recycling can help you, your community, and the environment by saving money, energy, and natural resources. Recycling programs are managed at the state and local level—find information on recycling in…

Terracycle Zero Waste Box

TerraCycle is a highly-awarded and globally recognized recycling company that develops zero waste solutions for difficult-to-recycle waste streams. To participate in the Zero Waste System, you must first select the waste streams you would like…

Where does your plastic go? Global investigation reveals America’s dirty secret

What happens to your plastic after you drop it in a recycling bin?


2020 could be the year of legislative boom – or bust – for national recycling policy

By E.A. Crunden   02/05/20  
An influx of legislation in Congress aims to tackle problems facing the recycling industry amid rising public attention. The bills range widely in their industry backers and odds of success.
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Malaysia returns trash, says it won’t be the world’s waste bin

By Associated Press   01/20/20  
Malaysia has sent back 150 containers of plastic waste to 13 mainly rich countries since the third quarter last year, with the environment minster warning on Monday that those who want to make the country…
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World’s Biggest Producer of Plastic to Curtail Its Use

By Lucille Liu, Dan Murtaugh, and Heesu Lee   01/19/20  
China will curtail its consumption of single-use plastic in an effort to tackle a soaring amount of the discarded material that has quickly become one of the world’s most pressing environmental crises.
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Is NYC Actually Recycling and Composting Its Waste?

By Brian Lehrer   01/13/20  
Each year, businesses and homes in New York City generate millions of tons of trash. Danielle Muoio, City Hall reporter for POLITICO New York, breaks down her reporting on how little waste ends up getting…
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Waste, Recycling Trends to Watch in 2020 (Part One)

By Cristina Commendatore   01/08/20  
Part one of a two-part series details emerging trends and industry experts’ outlook for 2020.
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Santa Rosa County throws ‘Hail Mary’ to save recycling program, which should begin by end of January

By Annie Blanks   01/03/20  
Santa Rosa County Commissioners are finalizing a contract to bring back recycling in 2020, a "Hail Mary" attempt to resurrect a program that's teetering on the edge of collapse due to high contamination rates and…
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Covanta will set ‘science-based’ emissions reduction target by 2022 as part of climate focus

By E.A. Crunden   12/23/19  
Covanta's new sustainability report argues incineration can play a key role in diverting waste from landfills, a major source of methane, and previews a growing focus on climate concerns.
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Recycling isn’t working – here are 15 ways to shrink your plastic footprint

By Emily Holden   11/27/19  
Only 9% of plastics get recycled, and significant reductions will require systemic change – but there are easy tips for individuals to cut back
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Big plastic polluters accused of cynically backing US recycling day

By Emily Holden and Oliver Milman   11/16/19  
America Recycles Day promoted by EPA is brainchild of not-for-profit backed by companies that produce plastic products...
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How recycling is changing in all 50 states

By Cole Rosengren, Max Witynski, Rina Li, E.A. Crunden, Cody Boteler and Katie Pyzyk   11/15/19  
Waste Dive began tracking the effects of China's scrap import policies across all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) during fall 2017 for America Recycles Day. We contacted each state environmental agency and found…
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How Coca-Cola undermines plastic recycling efforts

By Sharon Lerner   10/19/19  
Audio obtained by The Intercept reveals how Coca-Cola’s “green” philanthropy helped squelch an important tool in fighting the plastic crisis....
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Federal ‘Save Our Seas’ bill spurs debate over plastics recycling

By Katie Pyzyk E.A. Crunden   10/02/19  
A multi-pronged piece of federal legislation known as the "Save Our Seas 2.0 Act" (collectively S.1982) recently made multiple advancements, despite recent opposition. Two bills (S.2260 and S.2372) were passed in their respective U.S. Senate…
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P&G exec: Promising sustainability is easy; delivering on that promise is hard

By Jim Johnson   10/02/19  
Pledging to use recycled plastics in new packaging is easy. Actually doing it is a different story, according to an executive at one of the world's largest consumer goods companies.
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Pennsylvania community first to take flexible packaging in curbside carts

By Katie Pyzyk   09/25/19  
J.P. Mascaro and Sons has chosen Pottstown, Pennsylvania, as the first community where it will collect and sort flexible plastic packaging (FPP) in the existing curbside recycling program. The move is part of a high-profile…
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States look for new ways to recycle your plastic and paper

By Jennifer Calfas   09/08/19  
Two years ago, two-thirds of California’s recyclables exported abroad went to China. Now, states are searching for a more comprehensive—and more domestic—approach to your plastic, glass and cardboard....
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One very bad habit is fueling the global recycling meltdown

By Jackie Flynn Mogensen   09/03/19  
It's called "wishcycling," and pretty much all of us do it....
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What does it take to go compostable? Seattle grocer PCC is finding out

By Krishna Thakker   08/28/19  
The trend-setting company plans to make all of its deli packaging compostable within three years, but has found out getting there isn't easy.
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What’s next for California container recycling after rePlanet’s closure?

By Katie Pyzyk   08/28/19  
The recent announcement that California’s largest operator of beverage container redemption centers was immediately shutting down all locations has left many wondering what happens next with recycling in the state.
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Is It Or Isn’t It Recyclable?

Recycling really does lower emissions, but it's important to do it right. Here at The YEARS Project, our staff has a lot of questions about what can be recycled. Can you recycle pizza boxes, batteries…
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Recycling is in crisis. Could these innovations be the answer?

By Livia Albeck-Ripka   08/13/19  
Now that China is turning away the world’s recyclable waste, Australia wants to ban export of the materials and increase domestic processing. Here are some techniques being pursued....
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From slag to shopping: Century III Mall was part of an industrial recycling project

Century III Mall literally occupies a unique place in the Pittsburgh region — and a role in an early industrial recycling project....
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Beverage Companies Embrace Recycling, Until It Costs Them

By Michael Corkery   07/05/19  
They have pledged to help fix U.S. recycling, but for decades the companies have fought against “bottle bills,” which result in more bottles and cans being recycled but are costly for the industry.
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Boston aims for 80% recycling rate by 2035, plans organics pilot

By Cole Rosengren   06/19/19  
Boston's first "zero waste" plan has been released, setting an 80% recycling rate target by 2035 and 90% by 2050. The current citywide recycling rate is 25%. The estimated price tag for all 30 recommendations…
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Boston aims for 80% recycling rate by 2035, plans organics pilot

By Cole Rosengren   06/19/19  
Boston's first "zero waste" plan has been released, setting an 80% recycling rate target by 2035 and 90% by 2050. The current citywide recycling rate is 25%. The estimated price tag for all 30 recommendations is $58 million…
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Eskilstuna: how a Swedish town became the world capital of recycling

By Ammar Kalia   06/18/19  
The city was dying. Then somebody had a great idea to save it – make it the greenest place on Earth
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From no recycling to zero waste: how Ljubljana rethought its rubbish

By Luka Dakskobler   05/23/19  
Fifteen years ago, all the Slovenian capital’s waste went to landfill, but by 2025, at least 75% of its rubbish will be recycled. How did the city turn itself around?
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From Toilet to Tap: What Cities Need to Overcome to Make That Happen

By Sasha Harris-Lovett and David Sedlak   05/17/19  
In recent years, the idea of creating a circular economy—in which all of the resources coming into our cities are recycled after they are used—has taken hold. We now routinely recycle paper, glass and food…
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End of Waste Foundation’s new blockchain recycling concept starts with glass

By Cole Rosengren   05/06/19  
The End of Waste Foundation (EOW), a California-based startup, is set to launch a software platform with blockchain technology that will track material from haulers to MRFs to processors to manufacturers. This will result in…
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As Costs Skyrocket, More U.S. Cities Stop Recycling

By Michael Corkery   03/16/19  
Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country.
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Tips from a pro: How you can live ‘zero waste’ in the Bay Area

By Dion Lim   12/08/18  
As a part of Building a Better Bay Area, we're looking at the complex issue of recycling. San Francisco hopes to reach zero waste by the year 2020, meaning nothing will go to the landfill…
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How plastics waste recycling could transform the chemical industry

By By Thomas Hundertmark, Mirjam Mayer   12/01/18  
Reusing plastics waste could become an important driver of profitability for chemical companies. Incumbent players need to make the right moves now to tap this opportunity.
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No time to waste: What plastics recycling could offer

By Thomas Hundertmark, Chris McNally, Theo Jan Simons, and Helga Vanthournout   09/01/18  
Plastics waste is hurting the chemical industry as well as the environment. By taking the lead on recycling, chemical players could add a new dimension to the industry and help solve the problem.
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Recycling Breaks Down: US Struggles to Keep Plastic From the Dump

By Noreen O’Donnell   08/13/18  
China has implemented a new recycling policy called National Sword, halting all imports of recycled materials. The U.S. was sending about 40 percent of its recycled goods to china before the policy's implementation which means…
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Blockchain boom hits waste industry

By Katie Pyzyk   08/10/18  
Companies like Goodr and Plastic Bank are using blockchain to verify pickups and incentivize recycling programs.
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6 Things You’re Recycling Wrong

By Livia Albeck-Ripka   05/29/18  
Can you recycle coffee cups or greasy pizza boxes? If you’re tossing things in the recycling bin out of sheer hope, you might be an “aspirational recycler.”
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Taiwan Shines a Light on the Benefits of Waste Separation

By Andrew Gallegos   05/12/18  
Plastic bottles, paper packs, and paper containers — those are the three main recycling categories. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me.” The classroom was hot and humid, the open windows only…
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Sweden’s recycling is so revolutionary, the country has run out of rubbish

By Hazel Sheffield   12/08/16  
Sweden is so good at recycling that, for several years, it has imported rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going. Less than 1 per cent of Swedish household waste was sent to…
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Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not

By Livia Albeck-Ripka   05/29/18  
Plastics and papers from dozens of American cities and towns are being dumped in landfills after China stopped recycling most “foreign garbage.”
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