It seems a bit bold for one to think that everything that he or she throws in the recycling bin is recycled.

I would like to know how often things that are thrown into the recycling bin (assuming that the truck comes by to pick up the recycling and that everything in the bin is recyclable) are actually recycled, because I've never personally seen proof that any city or state government does anything with even part of the recyclable materials that it receives. It's possible that recyclables end up in the same piles as garbage, but how can one truly know? Does anybody in the community know for sure that most recyclables are recycled?

If I could narrow this question down a bit, I'd like to know about American recycling statistics. The information provided by Benjol and Oddthinking is helpful in giving a general idea on recycling though, so I thank you for that.

  • depends on the product, aliminium (and other metals) can be recycled endlessly (melt and recast), while paper loses its structure as it's recycled Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 10:48
  • 1
    I think you should narrow this one a little bit. If it's true that it depends on the region, than this question is not constructive.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 11:37
  • Do you have a specific claim to refute, or are you simply questioning the obvious underlying assumption? Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 1:10
  • @neilfein the second option; everybody assumes that things are recycled, but that's not necessarily true and I've never seen evidence that recyclables are actually recycled. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 0:16

3 Answers 3


The answer is going to depend on the region.

In Australia, for example, The National Waste Report, claims that in 2006-07,

22 707 000 tonnes or 52% of Australia's waste was recycled

and that figure:

22% was from the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream.

(i.e. the recycle bins, rather than from industrial, construction, etc.)

That is, 11% of all waste, or about 5 million tonnes per year is recycled, as you would normally understand it.

This does not answer the question "What percentage of the waste that I put in the recycling bin gets recycled?" but it does show that recycling does account for a significant part of the waste process.

I have heard unconfirmed reports that some councils, after first issuing recycling bins, would discard recyclables into landfill until the general population had been trained well enough to produce the volume and quality to make a recycling programme worthwhile.


This wikipedia article states that 40% of Swiss household waste is recycled (citing official administration statistics, I can't tell from your question whether you're likely to believe them).

And this site claims that 91% of aluminium beverage cans are recycled (in Switzerland)

  • I could believe those statistics, and this is helpful, but I've never seen figures on American or British recycling, which are kind of what I'd like to see. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 0:19
  • @CarterPape, I have heard (but never seen corroborated) that waste incineration facilities sometimes have to add 'recyclable' paper back into the mix to get something that is combustible. As I understood it at the time, that was temporary while they adjusted to the fact that less paper was coming through in household waste.
    – Benjol
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 4:44

There are government agencies and commodity guilds that track that sort of thing. The percentage of materials that are recycled that have deposits would most likely be accurate. Who would lie since money is involved? The recycling rate for those is 30% for Plastic and 60% for aluminium.

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    Yeah, nobody has ever lied about money... :P
    – Flimzy
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 5:25

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