Six months of fighting against a pandemic has shifted the mindset of many environmentally conscious consumers, according to findings from a new report released by the Consumer Brands Association. As the coronavirus causes increased plastic use, the need for a recycling system capable of accommodating this new reality also grows.

The Ipsos-conducted survey of 1,016 American adults found that nearly seven-in-ten (69 percent) Americans say they are more concerned about safety and hygiene than environmental impact. Furthermore, while an overwhelming majority (82 percent) of Americans are concerned about the environment, the figure is down eight points from 2019. Similarly, concern for single-use plastics, justifiably high at 80 percent, is down seven points from last year.

America currently has nearly 10,000 individual recycling programs, each with unique rules that create confusion and inefficiency. Only 11 percent of respondents feel that the country’s recycling systems are doing the best they can to recycle the material they receive.

“America is using more plastic and packaging to contend with COVID-19 and it is exposing our broken recycling system,” said Geoff Freeman, Consumer Brands president and CEO. “The pandemic has validated the urgent need for a modern recycling system that can deal with our reality. Where else can you have an 11 percent approval rating and continue the status quo?”

The pandemic has increased the volume of plastic and packaging waste, particularly single-use plastics. Consumer concern about single-use plastics is high, but a strong majority (62 percent) agree that improving the recycling system so it can efficiently process plastic is the preferred way to deal with single-use plastic waste. Only 17 percent want to see single-use plastic bans.

There is near-universal agreement that COVID-19 has raised the stakes on the importance of a functioning recycling system. Ninety-two percent of those surveyed believe recycling is now more or equally as important than before the pandemic for handling the increase in plastics and packaging.

“The first step to change is acknowledging the problem—a problem that Americans clearly recognize: our current recycling system is failing,” said Meghan Stasz, Consumer Brands vice president, packaging and sustainability. “COVID-19 is exposing the urgent need for a functioning recycling system. While the pandemic may be behind us, before we can truly fix all aspects of American recycling, the work we undertake today will leave generations better for it.”

Consumer Brands shared its recycling vision with the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates to urge both parties to make fixing America’s recycling infrastructure a key component of their environmental or infrastructure development platforms. The outreach to the campaigns builds on work Consumer Brands is spearheading through the Recycling Leadership Council and the association’s policy platform, Achieving America’s Recycling Future.

Consumer Brands further established its commitment to meeting ambitious goals and working across the packaging ecosystem with its support of the newly formed U.S. Plastics Pact, a collaborative of more than 50 NGOs, brands, retailers and government agencies to advance significant goals, including that all plastic packaging become reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Survey respondents are keenly aware of the shared responsibility of revamping America’s recycling system. When asked who needs to be part of solving the plastic and packaging waste crisis, consumers placed themselves at the top of the list, but gave responsibility to entities across the packaging value chain. 


What’s the Role of Recycling Stakeholders?


Solve Waste Problem

Run Recycling Systems

Finance Recycling Systems





Waste management




Plastics and packaging manufacturers




CPG manufacturers








State or local government




Federal government








None of these





“Although we are still fighting a global pandemic, we can’t afford to stop the fight to fix our country’s recycling system. COVID-19 should be a catalyst for saving recycling, not the reason it falters,” said Freeman.