Most Recyclable Materials, & Recycling Rates Of Different Materials (Paper, Metals, Plastic etc.)

When it comes to recycling, some materials are more recyclable than others.

Also, some materials have a higher recycling rate than others.

In this guide, we outline the materials that are not only recyclable, but also how often they are being recycled.


Summary – What To Know About Recyclable Materials

Recycling rates for different types of materials can differ by country

In the US specifically, according to one set of data, paper and paperboard was recycled at a rate of 64.7%, lead 67%, magnesium 54%, iron and steel 52%, aluminum 50%, glass about 33%, and plastic 9.1%

Another data set puts steel’s recycling rate in the US at 88% (in 2012)

Out of 60 metals studied in the US, only 18 had a recycling rate greater than 50%

The type of product that contains certain materials can impact recycling rates too – for example with gold, recycling rates can vary anywhere between 10% (for e goods) up to 90% (for industrial applications) depending on the product with gold in it being recycled

Recycling rates can differ year to year – like e waste for example – which experienced a 19% to 29% increase over a 2 year period from 2010 to 2012

Recycling rates can differ according to global average data sets too – like plastic at about 20% for example

Different countries and even different States within countries have different recycling infrastructure and systems in place to increase or decrease recycling rates

This is evidenced with glass – one third of glass is recycled in the US roughly, compared to a 90% recycling rate in some other countries … [such as] Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries

So, overall, different materials can have different recycling rates depending on a range of factors


Most Recyclable Materials

In order of highest to lowest recycling rates:

  • Paper, and Paperboard
  • Metals
  • Glass, Plastic and Wood

Read more about recyclable materials in this guide –

*Note – these rankings depend on the country – glass can be recycled in much higher rates in some countries for example.


Some Overall Recycling Rates Of Different Materials In The US

In the US in 2015:

  • The total MSW [municipal solid waste] recycled was 67.8 million tons, with paper and paperboard accounting for approximately 67 percent of that amount. Metals comprised about 12 percent, while glass, plastic and wood made up between 4 and 5 percent.



Recycling Rate Of Paper

  • Over 68 million tons of paper and paperboard products are recovered annually in the U.S., achieving a recycling rate of 64.7 percent



Recycling Rate Of Metals (Aluminum, Steel and Other Metals)

Recycling rates of selected metals in the U.S. in 2016, by metal, were:

  • Lead – 67%
  • Magnesium – 54%
  • Iron & Steel – 52%
  • Aluminum – 50%



  • With an overall recycling rate of 88% in 2012, steel is North America’s most recycled material. More steel is recycled each year than aluminum, paper, glass and plastic combined



  • [one report suggests] Of the 60 [metals] studied, only 18 had greater than 50 percent recovery, with three items in the 25-50 percent recovery, three elements in the 10-25 percent category, two elements at 1-10 percent, 34 elements less than 1 percent.
  • [so recycling rates for different metals vary]
  • [using gold as an example] … 70 to 90 percent of gold in industrial applications is recycled, for example, only 10 to 15 percent of gold is recycled from electronic goods.
  • For many other metals, the recovery rate is very low. 
  • Read more about the top ten metals recovered in recycling at 



There are also suggestions on how we might recycle more metals in these articles:



Recycling Rate Of Plastic

  • … the U.S. in 2015 recycled 9.1 percent of the plastic generated, down from 9.5 percent during the previous year



  • … it’s estimated that in 2015, around 55 percent of global plastic waste was discarded, 25 percent was incinerated, and 20 percent was recycled



Recycling Rate Of Glass


Recycling Rate Of E Waste

  • According to the EPA, only about 1 million tons of over 3.4 million tons of e-waste generated in the U.S. in 2012 was recycled, resulting in a recycling rate of 29 percent.
  • The e-waste recycling rate in 2011 was 24.9 percent, and 19.6 percent in 2010













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