Which States Are the Best (or the Worst) at Recycling?

Which States Are the Best (or the Worst) at Recycling?

Which States Are the Best (or the Worst) at Recycling?

Each U.S. state has its own set of rules and regulations when it comes to recycling, with some states taking the task of reducing their carbon footprint far more seriously than others. The BottleStore team set out to find which ones were at the top of their game and which states need some serious improvement when it comes to recycling and reducing waste. They accessed data from “The 50 States of Recycling” to determine which states are the best and the worst at recycling. This study is the first of its kind to compare the recycling rates of common containers and packaging materials (CCPM) across the U.S.

Our methodology for ranking all 50 states includes scoring each state on four different metrics; the one with the highest score will be crowned as the best state at recycling, while the state with the lowest score will be declared the worst at recycling. The first metric the states are scored on is their recycling rate of all CCPM. This includes the total amount of cardboard and boxboard, rigid plastics, PET bottles, aluminum cans, steel cans, and glass bottle and jars that are recycled in the state. The second metric is the pounds of waste per person that the state recycles instead of sending it to a landfill. For the first two metrics, the states are given a score between 0 and 100, with the highest rate and most weight per capita earning scores of 100. The third and fourth metrics are both in regard to recycling laws that the state has passed. If the state has a bottle deposit return system (DRS) in addition to curbside services for bottle recycling and/or has a policy that supports high CCPM recycling, they earn an additional 25 points for each.

It’s fitting that the two states that were found to have the best recycling are both nicknamed after something in nature. Maine, the Pine Tree State, and Vermont, the Green Mountain State, earned the two highest scores for their impressive recycling rates and legislation regarding waste management. Read on to see the full study:

Which State Is the Best at Recycling?

The best state at recycling is Maine, where 74% of the state’s waste is recycled. Maine also recycles the most per resident with an average of 285 pounds of waste recycled per capita, and it’s one of just ten states that has a deposit return system (DPS) in place. All but two of the top ten states were found to have a DPS in place.

Maine was found to have the highest rate of recycling cardboard and boxboard as well as rigid plastics, recycling plastic bottles, and recycling both types of bottles and jars. Pennsylvania was found to have the highest rate of steel recycling and tied Maine for the highest cardboard recycling rate. Michigan has the country’s highest rate of aluminum can recycling.

The 10 Best States at Recycling

  1. Maine
  2. Vermont
  3. Connecticut
  4. Oregon
  5. California
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Iowa
  8. Delaware
  9. New Jersey
  10. New York

Which U.S. State Is the Worst at Recycling?

The worst state at recycling is Alaska, with the country’s lowest recycling rate of just 16% of the state’s waste being recycled. Alaska also recycles the least per resident, an average of just 53 pounds of waste recycled per capita. Alaska only recycles 1% of their rigid plastics and PET bottles and just 3% of aluminum cans. The state’s government hasn’t passed legislation that supports high CCPM recycling or a deposit return system. Why is Alaska bad at recycling? Alaska’s low rates can be attributed to the fact that most Alaskans don’t have access to curbside recycling.

As for the contiguous states, Mississippi was found to have the lowest recycling rate, with only 17% of all waste in the state being recycled. Mississippi also has the least amount of material recycled per resident, at just 63 pounds per capita.

The 10 Worst States at Recycling

  1. Alaska
  2. Mississippi
  3. Tennessee
  4. Alabama
  5. Ohio
  6. Kentucky
  7. Louisiana
  8. New Mexico
  9. Arkansas
  10. Oklahoma

Where does your state fall in the rankings when it comes to recycling glass bottles, plastic containers, cardboard, and more?

States Ranked by How Well They Recycle

StateCardboard and BoxboardRigid Plastics TotalPET BottlesAluminum CansSteel CansGlass Bottles and Jars (A)Glass Bottles and Jars (B)Recycling Rate With all CCPMPounds per Capita RecycledBottle Bill?CCPM Supportive Legislation?Total Index Score
9New Jersey73%27%22%60%60%56%30%62%247NoNo170.5
10New York64%32%54%64%43%66%52%58%168YesNo162.3
14North Carolina67%8%8%16%27%39%22%44%177NoYes146.6
15Rhode Island66%28%36%39%61%47%25%56%186NoNo140.9
21New Hampshire53%25%29%32%32%38%20%44%173NoNo120.2
29South Dakota42%13%16%25%25%47%25%36%140NoNo97.8
32North Dakota39%12%15%23%23%43%23%33%136NoNo92.3
33South Carolina54%4%2%10%17%10%5%34%129NoNo91.2
39West Virginia47%2%3%7%7%1%1%31%105NoNo78.7
43New Mexico38%8%10%13%13%18%9%27%97NoNo70.5

The Best and Worst State at Recycling Each Type of CCPM

Cardboard and Boxboard Rigid Plastics Total PET Bottles Aluminum Cans Steel Cans Glass Bottles and Jars (A) Glass Bottles and Jars (B) 
Best StateMaine and Pennsylvania77%Maine57%Maine78%Michigan86%Pennsylvania69%Maine83%Maine73%
Worst StateAlaska and Mississippi24%Alaska1%Alaska1%Alaska3%Hawaii4%West Virginia1%West Virginia1%

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