Ramp Up for a Recycling Revolution

PUBLIC POLL: Most Would Like to See Major Changes in the Way We Recycle

Photo by Joshua Lawrence on Unsplash

There is a palpable feeling of distrust in the air when it comes to recycling, and rightfully so. The U.S. has historically outsourced it’s recyclables, which leaves the whole process shrouded in a bit of mystery. Many consumers put quite a bit of time and effort into supporting companies that use renewable products, and the demand to recycle these products after use deserves to be met. So why am I constantly struggling to find a recycling bin in public places? Why are there no recycling programs available in the rural town where I currently live? Bottom line:

My experience with recycling goes as far back into my childhood as I can remember. My mother used to keep my brother and I busy in the summers by sending us out to collect discarded cans and whatever litter we could find on our bicycles. We would speedily pedal home after our conquest to proudly show our Mother the goods we had collected, and she would always reward us with a trip to the ice cream shop for our efforts.

These memories shaped who I am as an adult today, and I still make an effort to recycle whenever possible. The problem is that I usually end up carting around an assortment of recyclables until I find an appropriate bin. In many cases I resort to using the passenger floorboard of my car as a makeshift holding area until I can get them home to be recycled properly. I began to wonder if I was the only one who struggled with this, and decided to do a little research of my own.

I deciding that my goal for this mission would be to improve the recycling system somehow, but I needed a better idea of where to start. I began by designing a general recycling survey to collect the information I would need to gain some insight. The results revealed that a majority of US citizens Recycle most of the time.

Green tones indicate those who usually recycle, red tones indicate those who usually do not.

Further survey results indicated that a vast majority of respondents are unsatisfied with their current recycling options, which did not surprise me. What did surprise me was exactly how unsatisfied they actually were, and that no one was really talking about it.

Survey results reveal that most people are very unhappy with their current recycling options.

I divided the responses by region because residents of a large city may have different recycling options than a rural town, which means they may have a different opinion about their available services. I wasn’t surprised to find that suburbia won by a landslide, but I was shocked that respondents had ranked their overall satisfaction so low. Even stranger to me was that those living in the recycling hot zones of suburbia only ranked their recycling satisfaction as a 6 out of 10.

This was alarming, so I consulted a frequent traveler for some insight. Kristina, who has lived all over the U.S. and recently moved from a rural town in England to Seattle, Washington had this to say when I asked her to compare U.S. recycling to other programs overseas —

I knew that others were frustrated with recycling, but in order to get a better idea of what needed changing, I needed to figure out how far people were willing to go to make those changes. When I asked these same participants if they would support a bill that placed a ban on certain plastics, I thought that they would scoff and mention the importance of plastics in today’s capitalist society, but I received no such response.

Green tones indicate support, yellow represents those who need more information before deciding, and red represents those opposed to a ban on certain plastics

After reviewing the above results, I decided to break down the information by age group to see if there were any patterns anywhere, but I had way more respondents born in the 1970’s & 80’s that was potentially tipping the scales. To keep that from skewing my information, I created this graph to show you are the overall percentages for each age group instead of the total number of responses.

Red represents those against a a ban on certain plastics.

To be honest, I was surprised that those most likely to support a ban on certain plastics with no questions asked were born in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Where were all of the tree-hugging hippies who grew up during the psychedelic 60’s on this one? I began to wonder what differences there could have been in upbringing, or even cultural influences that would create such a drastic change over a span of ten years. I thought of childhood movies from that era like and cartoons likeand could only wonder if they had a lasting impact on the way people born during these eras view their roles as inhabitants of this earth.

We all know that a cartoon has the power to incite a burst of excitement in children, so why did we stop using that to our advantage? There are not currently any cartoons on the air that promote taking care of the earth, so are we doing enough to promote recycling in the media today? I wasn’t sure myself, so I turned to our survey participants for a better understanding.

Recycling opinions grouped by area of residence.

Less than 20% of respondents felt that the media was doing enough to promote recycling. Looking at the above results, I would say that area of residence has little impact on recycling views, but when we segment the data by age again, we can see a bit of a pattern emerging. Eerily enough, it is similar to the pattern we saw in the plastic ban data. What is it about the 1970’s and 1980’s that is churning out this high level of recycling awareness and support? Was I perhaps getting somewhere with this theory of mine?

Those who think the media is not doing enough to promote recycling are represented by red.

After looking at the graph above, it seems there is a large possibility that the space held in childhood hearts may have left a void that is still waiting to be filled. I have to admit, I would love to see a cartoon that promotes recycling back on the air; or not. It makes recycling fun, and it drives children to care about the earth we inhabit together.

All cartoon suggestions aside, my research led me to some eye opening realizations. First, I am definitely not alone in my frustration with our current recycling options. Second, people are so unhappy with their current recycling programs that they would go so far as to support a ban on certain plastics. Third, most people do not think that recycling is promoted by the media enough. And finally, there seems to be a strange leap in how much recycling is valued that occurs for people born in the 1970’s, 80’s, and even 90’s.

I have to say that my research left me with more questions than answers, but I got my fill of both and feel prepared to move on to the next step in my research, testing my hypothesis. It is probable that Captain America or some other influence may have had lasting effects on those who were fortunate enough to experience it as children, so I am going to double down my efforts and focus on recreating it for future generations. This means more research must be done and more data must be complied, but we are one step closer to realizing how we can fix this. Stay on your toes, because I’m coming to you next for answers to my nagging questions!

Click here to be directed to my survey results

Click here to be directed to my raw data

Kristy is a blossoming analyst focused on using data design to tell stories and make the information stick.