The History of America Recycles Day

Author: Bob Gedert
RRS Affiliate Sr Consultant

Did you realize that America Recycles Day occurred last week? With news cycles on overload covering other topics, America Recycles Day (ARD) was noticeably missing from mainstream media. Even more startling was this year was ARD’s 20th anniversary! We thought it would be interesting to look back at the early start of ARD and share a little history on this anniversary year.

ARD roots go back to the state of Texas. Yes, we owe the great Republic of Texas for the seeds of a national celebration for recycling. Texas Recycles Day began in 1994 as the brainchild of two employees at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality: Kevin Tuerff and Valerie Davis. Their idea was to promote recycling through a six-week campaign to boost recycling in the state. They needed a day that was far enough away from Earth Day (April 22nd), but didn’t compete with election day or the holidays – November 15th was chosen. When Kevin and Valerie left their state jobs and started an environmental-focused public relations and advertising agency, they proposed transforming Texas Recycles Day into America Recycles Day. They presented the concept at the National Recycling Coalition’s (NRC’s) Congress, and it was embraced immediately. The first national run of America Recycles Day was set for November 15th, 1997.

The NRC promoted the event through a kickoff parade at the NRC’s 16th Annual Congress & Exposition in September 1997. On October 1st, 1997, the NRC and US EPA co-sponsored a national press conference at the White House Conference Center, featuring Vice President Al Gore as honorary chair for the event. The theme was “Buy Recycled” and the press conference featured a model store filled with recycled-content products. A raffle was offered to those who signed recycling pledge cards, with the winner receiving a free “American Green Dream House” – a home built with recycled-content and energy-efficient products. At least 40 states participated in the first America Recycles Day with various activities including recycling fairs, compost demonstrations, art from trash, games, and prizes.

Over the following years, the NRC hired staff to operate America Recycles Day, and advertised the event through buttons, posters and the promotion of local events. To promote recycling, ARD developed a different recycling theme each year. In the early years, the theme revolved around buying recycled, looking for recycled content products, encouraging letter writing campaigns to manufacturers, and signing pledge cards to recycle at home, at school, at work and at play. Later years focused on residential collection of recyclables, and the expansion of recycling in local communities. By time the 10th anniversary of ARD rolled around in 2007, more than 3,000 local events in all 50 states were posted on the NRC website.

As the temporary devolution of the NRC occurred in 2009, the ARD program was transferred to the Keep America Beautiful (KAB) organization. The goal was to keep the events rolling as the NRC needed time to reorganize. As the managing entity and promoter of ARD since 2009, KAB continues to provide promotional and marketing support and resources to a very large network of local event organizers, yet has enhanced the effort with national funds from private sponsors. The NRC assisted in advertising the ARD to its 6000 members in recent years, and supports KAB efforts to promote ARD nationwide.

The 2017 ARD campaign theme was “Be Recycled”. KAB utilized creative advertising sponsored through the Ad Council featuring an individual recycled plastic bottle rolling the streets wanting to be recycled into a picnic bench. And another ad depicts a plastic shampoo bottle as it reaches its dream of being recycled into a hair brush. KAB makes these ads available for distribution to local communities.

The 2017 America Recycles Day campaign success can be measured in the following statistics: 73,800 people pledged to recycle, and 1,500,000 people attended ARD events across the country.

Yet one statistic still haunts the recycling community: the national recycling rate is 34% and has been stuck at that level for several years.  As we try to raise the nation’s consciousness on recycling, we need to raise the recycling rate through higher citizen participation rates.  Recently, I voted as a civic responsibility, and I recycle as an environmental responsibility to reduce my carbon footprint.  Are you a recycler?

Obviously ARD has grown through the years and via the support of KAB.  For more information about ARD, visit: