The 50 States of Recycling: A State-by-State Assessment of US Packaging Recycling Rates

Eunomia Research and Consulting > The 50 States of Recycling: A State-by-State Assessment of US Packaging Recycling Rates

Eunomia collaborated with Ball Corporation, a leading manufacturer of aluminium packaging, to conduct a comparative assessment of packaging recycling rates in all 50 states of the US, building on our first-of-its-kind 2021 study.

In a strong circular economy, recycling is a key stage in a system that feeds material into the supply chain multiple times (so that a used can becomes a new can, for example). It captures valuable material that would otherwise go to landfill and transforms it into resources with fresh economic potential. It also means fewer greenhouse gases are emitted from extracting virgin materials and converting them into packaging.

To understand the current state of recycling in the US, Eunomia researched and analysed data on waste generation, recycling, and disposal rates for different packaging materials: cardboard, boxboard, and paper; flexible and rigid plastics; glass bottles and jars; and aluminium and steel cans.[1] With many states measuring recycled material in inconsistent or inadequate ways, we developed the first robust methodology to assess available data, account for differences between states, and accurately compare recycling rates.

We found that currently, the US recycling industry only captures about 32% of the value of material in the packaging waste stream – meaning a potential $6.5 billion in value goes to landfill rather than back into the economy.

We also found that actual recycling rates have stalled or dropped since 2021, with a notable exception: states offering recycling refunds (also known as deposit return systems or bottle bills) recycle almost five times as many beverage containers as other states.

By modelling an ideal future scenario and comparing the outcomes with those from current recycling rates, we demonstrated that implementing well-designed recycling refunds, along with extended producer responsibility (EPR), would maximize closed-loop recycling and the associated economic, environmental, and social outcomes.

In this ideal scenario, the value of material captured, employment income from related jobs, the emissions reduction benefit (based on the social cost of carbon), and gross value added to the economy would together amount to $70 billion in monetary benefit.

Eunomia’s assessment has strengthened the environmental and economic case for expanding recycling infrastructure and systems in the US and building public and private sector partnerships to foster simple, convenient circular processes. Our work has been used to support the development of an EPR bill in Tennessee and is informing efforts elsewhere to develop smart policies that encourage recycling for future prosperity and circularity.[2],[3]

[1] Eunomia 2023 The 50 States of Recycling 2023. Available at:

[2] Reimagine Packaging Tennessee n.d. Tennessee Waste Reduction and Recyling Act: Information Sheet. Available at:

[3] Kuffner, A 14 March 2024 ‘Would a bottle bill work in RI? Advocates look to Oregon for the example,’ Providence Journal. Providence, RI, USA.