Consumer poll finds Americans incorrectly believe plastic is most recyclable material

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Opportunity Abounds for Changing Purchasing and Recycling Habits

SAN FRANCISCO—A new survey released today by Consumer Action finds that most consumers are misinformed about the recyclability of plastic, resulting in purchasing and recycling habits that harm the environment and ignore basic facts about the nature of plastic products and other packaging materials. The poll found that 58% of respondents believe plastic materials are endlessly recyclable, when, in fact, plastic food and beverage products are commonly “downcycled” into lower-grade products or sent directly to landfills.

“Consumers have been educated on the importance of recycling programs for decades,” said Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action. “While recycling is key to reducing pollution and landfill growth, consumers need to be better informed about what happens to the containers they buy at the store. There is clearly a disconnect between the types of containers that can be recycled endlessly and those of limited, if any, recycling value.”

The national poll also found that 73% of respondents consider helping the environment an important factor in what they buy, and that there was significant consumer appetite for shifting purchasing to food sold in endlessly recyclable containers, such as metal cans and glass jars. For example, 77% of respondents support the shift from single-use plastic packaging to metal, which can be recycled infinitely without a loss of quality.

Consumer Action called upon corporations to offer more food packaging options for eco-conscious customers.

“Better recycling decisions begin in the checkout aisle,” added McEldowney. “But without other options, offered at a reasonable price, consumers will continue to be forced into buying products in limited-use plastic containers. Consumers and companies must do better. The survey results make it clear consumers are willing to buy foods in more recyclable containers if manufacturers make them more diverse and available.”

The full results of the survey* can be found on Consumer Action’s website.


*Methodology: 1,000 interviews among American adults were conducted online July 8-9, 2019, and the results were weighted to ensure proportional responses. The Bayesian confidence interval for 1,000 interviews is 3.5, which is roughly equivalent to a margin of error of ±3.1 at the 95% confidence level.



Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A non-profit 501(c)3 organization, Consumer Action focuses on consumer education that empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers and regulators to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change.

By providing consumer education materials in multiple languages, a free national hotline, a comprehensive website ( and annual surveys of financial and consumer services, Consumer Action helps consumers assert their rights in the marketplace and make financially savvy choices. Nearly 7,000 community and grassroots organizations benefit annually from its extensive outreach programs, training materials and support.




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