Americans struggle to recycle outside the kitchen

Americans struggle to recycle outside the kitchen

By Bobby Elliott, Resource Recycling

April 23, 2014

A new study indicates that while three of four Americans say they recycle at least occasionally, less than half of survey respondents divert materials used in non-kitchen areas of their homes.

The study, commissioned by Johnson & Johnson and carried out by Cone Communications, found that the two most significant barriers to non-kitchen recycling come down to "the lack of room-specific recycling bins and clear product labeling."

"Labels build awareness of what is recyclable, and household bins, ideally within arm's reach, help many of us take the next step of separating recyclables," Paulette Frank, Johnson & Johnson's vice president of sustainability, stated in the report.

Digging a little deeper, the wide-ranging data collected by Cone provides some interesting industry insight.

Just 46 percent of survey respondents said they "always" recycle, while another 26 percent reported they "almost always" recycle. About 10 percent of adults said they never or rarely recycle and 18 percent stated they "sometimes" recycle.

Interestingly, Hispanics represented the most fervent recycling advocates among polled consumers, with 53 percent reporting they always recycle and data suggesting extra care — and time — is spent by the group on researching the recyclability of products.

Approximately 56 percent of U.S. households are outfitted with a kitchen recycling bin, the study found, and 43 percent of homeowners said there's also one in either the basement or garage. Beyond those arenas, however, recycling bin prevalence drops: 21 percent of laundry rooms and 14 percent of both home office spaces and bathrooms contain bins.

Respondents said bathroom items ranked as the second-most convenient products to recycle. Three out of four consumers say bathroom items, a key focus of Johnson & Johnson's Care to Recycle program, are "very or somewhat" convenient to recycle.

The other major barrier identified by Cone is product labeling. A little more than 20 percent of consumers say they recycle only items that are clearly labeled as recyclable and 28 percent report recycling items they know are recyclable.

One bright piece of data from the Johnson & Johnson-Cone study suggested that two-thirds of children learned about recycling in school and 62 percent of parents said their children were "very motivated" to recycle.

One possible caveat to the study results is the strict use of the term "recycling bin," which – to some consumers – could exclude paper or plastic bags functioning as alternative receptacles. "I suppose people could be recycling in receptacles other than bins, but nothing in the study confirms that," Cone's Jenn Goonan told Resource Recycling.

A separate study released this week by the National Waste & Recycling Association suggests that two-thirds of Americans know what can and can't be put into recycling bins or carts. The same study, however, shows almost two out of every five consumers believe they can recycle plastic bags through curbside collection programs.

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