Identifying the Determinants of Recycling Rates in the US: A Multi-level Analysis


  • Billy Oh Aspiring Scientists' Summer Internship Program, 2019
  • Sunho Oh Aspiring Scientists' Summer Internship Program, 2019
  • Tarun Sivanandan Aspiring Scientists' Summer Internship Program, 2019
  • John Small Aspiring Scientists' Summer Internship Program, 2019
  • Dr. Younsung Kim Department of Environmental Science and Policy, College of Science, George Mason University



Today, we live in a throw-away society where not everything ends up in the correct place. Around 80 percent of American municipal solid waste discarded is recyclable. In 2015, the United States had a recycling rate of 34 percent. However, little is known about the variables that affect recycling rates. This study aims to fill the research gap and identify the determinants that may affect the recycling rates in the US. We employed multivariate linear regression analysis to determine the relationships between states’ recycling rates and 23 variables related to demographics, political, socio-economic and environmental factors. This study finds that states that convert waste to energy and have more superfund sites tend to recycle more, while states with preemptive policies on local governments’ single plastic bag bans and more landfill sites are less likely to recycle. Despite conventional belief, the recycling infrastructure in a state does not have a strong correlation with state recycling rates. To promote recycling rates, the study suggests that state governments may allow local governments to freely pass environmental legislation such as bans on single-use plastic bags and support waste-to-energy facilities as an end destination for waste. Furthermore, the use of superfund sites by state governments as a tool for raising awareness on pollution issues may increase the recycling rates.





Abstracts from the 2019 Aspiring Scientists' Summer Internship Program