After a taxing but exhilarating spin class, Jane finishes the last of her sports drink and chucks the bottle into the trash on her way out the gym’s door. She isn’t opposed to recycling, but it didn’t really cross her mind, especially when the easy option is a trash bin placed conveniently near the exit.
Not recycling a solitary plastic bottle may seem like a small thing, but small things have a way of adding up. What would it be like if everyone — all over the world — recycled?
Let’s turn to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for some perspective. For more than 30 years, the EPA has collected information on how much trash Americans generate — and how much of it they recycle. In 2012, the most recent year for EPA data, people in the U.S. created 251 million tons (228 million metric tons) of trash and recycled nearly 87 million tons (79 million metric tons) of that same refuse. That comes out to a recycling rate of 34.5 percent, the equivalent of recycling 1.51 pounds of the 4.38 pounds (0.68 kilograms of the 1.97 kilograms) of trash each American generates per day .