Plastic Recycling Facts and Figures


Companies that wish to make a positive impact on the environment should be aware of the current state of plastic recycling and the global impact plastic waste has on the world. Here’s a brief overview of the industry.

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Environmental Facts

Plastic items can take hundreds of years to break down in landfills. The EPA reports that 8.7% of the plastic material produced in the U.S. Municipal Solid Waste stream (MSW) was recycled in 2018. Another 15.8% of the plastic material was used for energy and 75.6% went to landfills.

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  • Reusing plastic can save you significant energy compared to making new plastics from virgin material.
  • PlasticsEurope reported that 9.4 Million Tonnes of plastics were recycled across Europe in 2018.
  • According to the EPA in 2018, 29.1% of PET plastic bottles were recyclable and 19.3% of HDPE plastic bottles were recycled.
  • In 2018, only 13.6% of plastic packaging could be recycled.
  • In 2018, 3.13 million tonnes of PET plastic was discarded in the United States.
  • California spends approximately $25 million annually to dispose of plastic waste in landfills.

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Ocean Plastic Facts

  • According to a 2015 University of California Santa Barbara study, almost 4.8 million tons of plastic end-up in the oceans each year.
  • In 2018, the International Coastal Cleanup collected 1.9 million plastic bags and grocery bags.
  • Plastic waste can cause the death of up to 1,000,000 sea creatures each year.
  • Plastic eventually breaks down into microplastics. These tiny plastic particles can be found along beaches around the globe.
  • According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2050, plastic will outnumber fish in the ocean.
  • According to a Plos One article, 5.25 trillion pieces plastic, more than 260,000 tons in weight, are floating in the oceans.

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Recycle Economic Facts

  • In 2018, 359 million tonnes of plastics were produced around the world.
  • Recycled bottles are only used in small amounts to make new bottles. Coca-Cola only sources 20% of its packaging from recycled materials, while Nestle Waters North America utilizes just 16%.
  • The American Chemistry Council estimates that more than 60% Americans have access to various plastic recycling programs.