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New Survey Highlights American Microplastic and Recycling Concerns

New Survey Highlights American Microplastic and Recycling Concerns

new survey conducted by plastic pollution prevention startup CleanHub looks at the attitudes of US citizens towards plastic and recycling in 2024, finding that 84% were concerned about microplastics, and wanted more action from the government and brands towards recycling and reducing plastic pollution. 

Key takeaways:

  • Microplastics and the impact they have on health are a big worry for Americans, with 84% of respondents saying they were concerned.
  • Less than a fifth (19%) were confident their plastic waste gets recycled, compared to 35% who said they were not confident.
  • More than three-quarters of people (77%) surveyed want the US government to make recycling more accessible.
  • Businesses urgently need to step up too – 79% of respondents think brands should be doing more to tackle plastic pollution.
  • One-third of people surveyed find it impossible to avoid single-use plastics, despite awareness about its negative impacts.
  • Around half (49%) would pay more for more sustainably packaged products, while 39% did not want to.

Launched on Global Recycling Day (18th March), CleanHub surveyed Americans to learn about their attitudes towards recycling both at home and at work, what their biggest recycling barriers are, and if they’d like more action from their government and businesses towards it. As only 5% of US plastic is recycled, and a 32% overall recycling rate, American recycling is amongst the lowest in developed nations showing that much more has to be done.

With news breaking this year around the shocking level of microplastics in every day life, the health repercussions from them are a large concern for 84% of the survey respondents. Many were also skeptical of plastic waste recycling – just 19% said they were ‘very confident’ that their plastic waste gets recycled, whereas more than a third (35%) stated that they were ‘not confident’. 

Americans are also clear in wanting more federal action towards recycling – 77% of the respondents said yes when asked if the ‘US government needs to implement more recycling measures’. Only 12% said no, and 11% were unsure.

This could be as recycling policies vary depending on the state. Over a quarter (27%) said that they didn’t know or were unsure what materials can be recycled in their state, while 73% were aware. In regards to recycling barriers, Access to Facilities (31%) came up as the top reason with Motivation (27%), Cost (18%), Awareness (18%), and Other (6%) making up the rest, showing that more should be done towards infrastructure and education.

As well as the government, the vast majority (78%) also believe that brands and businesses have to do much more to combat plastic pollution, especially during the current cost of living crisis. Just under half (49%) said that they’re willing to pay more for sustainably packaged products, while 39% did not want to. Many stated that it depended on the cost of sustainable packaging to them rather than businesses, suggesting a big price difference may serve as a deterrent.

Cost was a key sustainable purchasing factor raised by many – 59% of those over 45 believe rising costs made it harder to shop sustainably, and 71% of younger people (ages 18-29) said it was harder to support sustainable brands due to the rising cost of living. 

When asked if they recycle at home, 87% responded saying that they do, clearly highlighting that most Americans are aware of and follow domestic recycling initiatives. These rates seem to fall at workplaces – 44% stated that their workplaces had recycling facilities, and a fifth (20%) said that they don’t have any at all. A third (33%) stated that they found it impossible to avoid single-use plastics in their daily life. Only 15% said they always avoid them, and just over half (52%) stated that they try to avoid them. 

Some of the statements given by the survey respondents included:

  • “Have can and bottle redemptions in more states, and more facilities that pay for metal and plastics”
  • “The government should take a more active stance”
  • “Make it affordable and easier to recycle what you have”

In regards to industries, food and beverage was cited as the biggest source of plastic waste by 75% of those surveyed, followed by beauty and cosmetics (32%), laundry and homecare (23%), apparel (19%), pet food + accessories (7%), and other (3%).

CleanHub’s Vice President of Marketing, Nikki Stones, had this to say on the survey findings:

“While US plastic recycling rates are incredibly low for a developed country, the American population’s attitude towards the issue couldn’t be more different. Our survey findings show that the majority of Americans not only diligently recycle, but have a clear desire for action on a larger scale – especially with rising concerns around microplastics.

The government – at a federal and state level – has to do more. They must provide convenient access to recycling facilities and education, as well as create policies to drive more sustainable business practices.

The emphasis on the cost of sustainable products is a familiar one, especially during a cost of living crisis. This is why brands also have a vital role to play by tackling plastic pollution in a way that doesn’t carry the financial impact onto consumers.”

Survey Methodology: 

CleanHub conducted this research in February 2024 to learn more about recycling habits and attitudes toward plastic, surveying 965 people over the age of 18 in the United States. There was a roughly even split between male and female respondents, as well as between the age brackets: 18-29, 30-44, 45-60, 60+. We had people from all regions of the US, except from overseas territories, take part.

The overall earnings of those who participated in the survey ranged from 0 to $200,000+. However, many respondents said their income was between $25,000 and $49,999 per year. Our online survey included 15 questions related to recycling and consumer trends. 

About CleanHub:

CleanHub is a global startup that uses technology to prevent plastic from reaching the sea by implementing waste recovery where there currently is none. Partnering with hundreds of brands, CleanHub uses funds to collect ocean-bound plastic from vulnerable communities, using its trash-tracking technology to provide real-time evidence of collection.