Current Challenges Facing the System

While the benefits of recycling are clear, growing and strengthening the U.S. recycling system to create more jobs and enhance environmental and community benefits will require multi-stakeholder collaboration to address the challenges currently facing the system. Current challenges include:

  • Most Americans want to recycle, as they believe recycling provides an opportunity for them to be responsible caretakers of the Earth. However, it can be difficult for consumers to understand what materials can be recycled, how materials can be recycled, and where to recycle different materials. This confusion often leads to placing recyclables in the trash or throwing trash in the recycling bin or cart. 
  • America’s recycling infrastructure has not kept pace with today’s waste stream. Communication between the manufacturers of new materials and products and the recycling industry needs to be enhanced to prepare for and optimally manage the recycling of new materials. 
  • Domestic markets for recycled materials need to be strengthened in the United States. Historically, some of the recycled materials generated in the United States have been exported internationally. However, changing international policies have limited the export of materials. There is also a need to better integrate recycled materials and end-of-life management into product and packaging designs. Improving communication among the different sectors of the recycling system is needed to strengthen the development of existing materials markets and to develop new innovative markets. 
  • Stakeholders across the recycling system agree that more consistent measurement methodologies are needed for measuring recycling system performance. These more standardized metrics can then be used to create effective goals and track progress.