Survey Finds 93% of Americans Overestimate the Amount of Plastic Recycled and Reused Each Year

National consumer survey shows blindspot about role of crude oil in production of new plastic, consumers want to hold companies accountable for sustainability and are willing to pay more for clothing made out of recycled polyester

NEW HAVEN, Conn., May 09, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, a national consumer perception survey revealed a disparity in the fundamental understanding of how plastic waste impacts human life, despite consumers' strong desire for a more sustainable future. Protein Evolution and Wakefield Research surveyed American adults in April 2023, and gathered insights into consumers' comprehension of the plastics and recycling industries. The findings highlight the ubiquity of plastic, the material’s ties to fossil fuels, and the mounting expectations for businesses to take action and responsibility for finding replacements for products derived from virgin plastic.

Key Findings:

  • Almost all Americans (93%) overestimate the percentage of plastic products that are recycled and reused each year, including 35% who mistakenly think it is half or more. In reality, a report from Greenpeace cited a recycling rate of only 5-6% in 2021.
  • More than 4 in 5 Americans believe they’re at least somewhat knowledgeable about ways to reduce plastic waste in their day-to-day life.
  • Nearly 7 in 10 Americans (69%) do not recognize that crude oil is used to produce new plastic products, including most textiles for clothing. The Center for International Environmental Law notes that over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels.
  • Nearly a third of surveyed adults (27%) believe none of their clothes contain the same raw materials used to manufacture plastic. Yet, the National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 70% of clothing is made with polyester or other plastic-derived fabric.
  • A massive 98% of Americans overestimate the actual amount of discarded textiles that are recycled, including 30% who believe half or more are recycled.
  • More than 3 in 4 (76%) believe it is very or extremely important that companies increase the amount of recycled materials they use to make clothing and apparel, including 82% of parents.
  • Nearly 2 in 3 (66%) would be willing to pay more for clothes made from recycled polyester, including 40% who would pay $20+ more.
  • Overall, 89% of Americans believe that when it comes to reducing plastic waste, everyone has a role to play, including individuals.

Why It Matters

Traditional methods used to create virgin plastic or textile goods rely heavily on fossil fuels as feedstock. The existing plastic production process is extremely energy intensive and can result in problematic contaminants for the environment. Even more so, at the end of life, plastic and polyester waste contribute significant methane emissions due to landfilling and incineration in the United States.

The textile industry, in particular, is adding 11.3 million tons of polyester waste to landfills or incinerators annually. Today, the industry lacks commercially sufficient technologies to recycle end-of-life textiles into new products. As a result, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that 10 percent of global emissions are related to the textile industry.

“The future is going to be what we design it to be,” said Dr. Paul Anastas, author of “Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice,” Professor at Yale University and science advisor to Protein Evolution (PEI). “If people knew that most of their clothes are petroleum-based, coming from an oil rig, they would probably demand that we do better. Solving the problem of plastic waste will require a variety of strategies and new technologies to move toward sustainable and circular materials.”

The Future of Textile Recycling

Protein Evolution, the CT-based biological recycling company that commissioned this survey, envisions a world where waste is no longer a environmental constraint, but rather a valuable resource that can reduce our reliance on Earth's resources, including fossil fuels.

The future of textile recycling will rely on true circularity at both the start and end of a product’s lifecycle. This is made possible through biological recycling. Biological recycling utilizes enzymes to reduce the burden of the expensive waste sorting process, which is a current bottleneck in recycling and one of the main drivers of rising costs across the industry today. By being able to address hard-to-recycle textiles at the end-of-life, while providing brands with a high-quality recycled material, Protein Evolution has the potential to deliver the first true, circular solution to the fashion industry, without asking consumers to compromise on cost.

“By processing significant amounts of polyester waste per year in an enzymatic plant powered by our technology we not only divert waste from landfills and incinerators, but we reduce the need to produce new polyester from petroleum,” said Connor Lynn, Chief Business Officer and Co-Founder of Protein Evolution. “Our goal is to leverage biology to lead the transition of the chemicals and materials industries to a lower-carbon, more circular economy. We know through market research, including this first-of-its-kind public opinion survey, that consumers care deeply about sustainability in the fashion industry, but they still lack the knowledge about the true impact of plastic and textile waste. We have an opportunity to change that.”

For more insights, download the full report here or join the conversation on LinkedIn and Twitter.


The survey was conducted by Wakefield Research ( among 1,000 nationally representative US adults ages 18+, between April 11th and April 17th, 2023, using an email invitation and an online survey. Data was weighted to ensure an accurate representation of nationally representative US adults ages 18+. Results of any sample to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, pulse or minus, by more than 3,1 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.

About Protein Evolution

Protein Evolution leverages biology to help the chemicals and materials industries transition to a lower-carbon, circular economy. The company was founded in 2021 by Yale University alumni Connor Lynn, in partnership with Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, a world-renowned scientist, entrepreneur and National Medal of Technology and Innovation recipient. The company’s first product is an enzymatic process that enables textile and plastic waste to become an infinitely reusable resource. Based in New Haven, Conn., Protein Evolution has a partnership with ESPCI Paris, Fashion for Good, and 4Catalyzer, a life sciences accelerator dedicated to making a global impact through bold innovations in medicine, engineering, machine learning, life sciences and biotech.

For more information, visit

Media Contact: