Study: Where Americans Are Most Mindful About Recycling

By HomeAdvisor

Published October 19, 2022

man recycling a box in front of his house

Proper waste management and junk removal are crucial for the health of our homes and our environment—but if you’ve ever wondered what to do with that used plastic bag or a soggy cardboard pizza box, you’re not alone. Many Americans aren’t sure what to do with potential recyclables: Should they toss them out, or can they be repurposed?

HomeAdvisor analyzed 140-plus questions Americans regularly ask Google about recycling to see where folks are most environmentally conscious and to learn which types of things they’re still unsure about when it comes to recycling. Read on to learn where Americans are most conscientious—or confused—about what goes in the recycling bin.

Key Findings

  • Residents of Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Seattle care most about recycling.
  • Americans’ most common recycling question is, “Can I recycle styrofoam?”
  • Many Americans aren’t sure if they can recycle paper—34% of recycling questions are about this topic.

Where Americans Care Most About Recycling

To determine where Americans are most conscientious about recycling, we analyzed hundreds of Google searches to see where volume was the highest. We found that folks living in Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Seattle are the most concerned about recycling compared to people living in other major U.S. cities. They Google the most questions about recycling overall, asking about everything from the specific items they can recycle to where they can take specialty items like batteries or scrap metal.

Other urban centers are among the most recycling-conscious major cities in America. Google gets an average of 500-plus questions per 100,000 residents from Portland and Denver residents every month.

cities with the most recycling questions

On the other hand, the data showed that some cities aren’t as worried about sorting their trash and recycling. New York and Philadelphia have the fewest recycling-related Google searches compared to their population sizes. Other major metro areas like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston rank near the bottom, too.

25 Most Common Recycling Queries

Despite years of public advertising and educational efforts about recycling, Americans aren’t sure what to do with paper. In fact, 34% of the total monthly recycling Google searches are about paper products.

Still, Americans want to make sure they’re doing the right thing. We found that many Americans ask Google what to do with recyclable products like metal, electronics, and glass. Bringing these to recycling facilities benefits the environment and your wallet—some cities and states offer payment in exchange for recycling these items.

Here are the 25 most-Googled recycling queries:

  1. Metal recycling near me
  2. Electronic recycling near me
  3. Is styrofoam recyclable?
  4. Scrap metal recycling near me
  5. Battery recycling near me
  6. Glass recycling near me
  7. Paint disposal near me
  8. Can you recycle styrofoam?
  9. Is paper recyclable?
  10. Bottle recycling near me
  11. Is glass recyclable?
  12. Is bubble wrap recyclable?
  13. Is aluminum foil recyclable?
  14. Are pizza boxes recyclable?
  15. Can you recycle plastic bags?
  16. Can you recycle pizza boxes?
  17. Is cardboard recyclable?
  18. Are plastic bags recyclable?
  19. Is wood recyclable?
  20. Can you recycle bubble wrap?
  21. Where can I recycle batteries?
  22. Are egg cartons recyclable?
  23. Can you recycle glass?
  24. Are milk cartons recyclable?
  25. Are magazines recyclable?

Cities Most Mindful of Recycling Household Items

A lot of recycling begins with savvy homeowners. We measured the volume of questions people in different cities ask Google about recycling household items like milk cartons and aluminum foil. We found that those living in mid-size cities like Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland are most diligent about their recycling habits.

cities with the most questions about recycling household items

25 Most Common Recycling Questions About Household Items

Of course, it’s not always clear which items can be recycled. Are all types of plastic fair game? What if there was food in it?

The biggest recycling wildcard is styrofoam. Questions like “Is styrofoam recyclable?” and “Can you recycle styrofoam?” are the most-Googled questions across the country. Americans also wonder about household basics like paper, glass, and bubble wrap.

Here are the 25 most-searched household recycling questions:

  1. Is styrofoam recyclable?
  2. Can you recycle styrofoam?
  3. Is paper recyclable?
  4. Is glass recyclable?
  5. Is bubble wrap recyclable?
  6. Is aluminum foil recyclable?
  7. Are pizza boxes recyclable?
  8. Can you recycle plastic bags?
  9. Can you recycle pizza boxes?
  10. Is cardboard recyclable?
  11. Are plastic bags recyclable?
  12. Is wood recyclable?
  13. Can you recycle bubble wrap?
  14. Are egg cartons recyclable?
  15. Can you recycle glass?
  16. Are milk cartons recyclable?
  17. Are magazines recyclable?
  18. Are light bulbs recyclable?
  19. Can you recycle aluminum foil?
  20. Are plastic hangers recyclable?
  21. Are ziploc bags recyclable?
  22. Can I recycle styrofoam?
  23. Can you recycle light bulbs?
  24. Is metal recyclable?
  25. Are bottle caps recyclable?

Unusual Recycling Searches by City

Recycling isn’t limited to plastic water bottles and paper. But there are several unusual items—like red solo cups, knives, and Christmas lights—that Americans wonder about recycling.

unusual recycling questions by city

The most common unexpected search is “Can I recycle red solo cups?” It was a popular Google search in 7 of the 50 cities we analyzed:

  • Austin
  • Bakersfield
  • Colorado Springs
  • Las Vegas
  • Nashville
  • Virginia Beach
  • Washington, D.C.

“Can I recycle knives?” is a notable search in five cities, and “Can I recycle yogurt lids?” and “Can I recycle Christmas lights?” was a standout search in four cities.

Where Americans Are Most Concerned About Specialty Recycling

Sometimes you need to recycle something that probably shouldn’t go in your bin at home, but taking care of trash can be a disliked home maintenance chore. We assessed where Americans are Google searching to find specialty recycling facilities for products like electronics and scrap metal to figure out in what cities Americans are on top of proper recycling protocols.

cities with the most questions about speciality recycling facilities

Residents of Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Kansas City search the most specialty recycling questions, wondering where they can properly dispose of scrap metal and batteries. On the flip side, New Yorkers don’t seem to wonder what they should do with these used goods—they Google the fewest questions about specialty recycling facilities.

Proper recycling is important whether you’re disposing of a plastic peanut butter container or an old car battery. If you need someone to help you dispose of bulky items like cardboard boxes, hire a local junk removal company to lend a hand.

Methodology: We used Google AdWords to look at the year-to-date search volume from September 2021 to September 2022 for 144 different recycling-related search terms, focusing on terms that involved the recycling of household items and how to recycle certain specialty items. We captured the average monthly volume of searches for each city and calculated the number of questions per 100,000 residents to account for differences in population sizes.

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