Eunomia Research & Consulting and Ball Corporation have released an updated version of the ’50 States of Recycling’ report, a comprehensive assessment of recycling practices across the United States.

The report builds on its predecessor, providing a state-by-state comparison of common packaging materials, using data on generation, recycling, and disposal rates.

One of the key findings from the report indicates that nine out of the ten states boasting the highest recycling rates have implemented recycling refunds, commonly known as bottle bills or deposit return systems.

Despite representing only 27% of the US population, these states contribute significantly to recycling efforts, accounting for 47% of all packaging recycled, 51% of aluminium cans and glass bottles recycled, and 61% of all polyethylene terephthalate bottles recycled.

Furthermore, states with recycling refunds are found to recycle 34% of their packaging (excluding fibres and flexible plastics) through closed-loop end markets such as can-to-can or bottle-to-bottle processes.

In contrast, non-recycling refund states achieve only 7% in closed-loop recycling rates.

National recycling challenges and opportunities

The overall recycling rates in the United States have stagnated or declined since the last report, with pandemic-related shutdowns at recycling centres being a contributing factor.

The nation’s current aluminium can recycling rate stands at 45.2%, well below the desired 90% by 2030. Achieving this target could lead to significant benefits, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth.

The report estimates that the value of materials diverted from landfills nationally is $2.6bn, representing only 32% of the potential annual value. Approximately $6.5bn of material is lost to landfills each year, emphasising the need for more effective recycling practices.

State rankings and the impact of policies

The report ranks US states based on their recycling rates in 2021, revealing that Maine leads with a 65% recycling rate while West Virginia lags significantly behind at 2%.

Additionally, the report explores the benefits of implementing policies such as recycling refunds and extended producer responsibility schemes, which hold producers accountable for product management throughout their life cycle.

States adopting both policies simultaneously achieve higher recycling rates and maximise closed-loop recycling, thereby delivering optimal social, environmental, and economic outcomes.