AltUse Find - How Much Trash Does the U.S. Produce?

Something important to know when talking about recycling is MSW, or municipal solid waste. Basically, MSW is trash.
MSW that is computed into the The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recycling figures includes common household throw-away items such as food scraps, package wrapping, grass clippings, and even bigger items like an old microwave, sofa, or refrigerator. MSW that is not taken into account when recycling statistics are computed are items such as hazardous, industrial, and construction waste.
The EPA gives mixed results about household MSW. They report that while the U.S. is experiencing sustained improvements in waste reduction, the overall bulk of MSW the U.S. creates continues to rise. From 1980 to 2005, the U.S. MSW generation increased 60 percent! That’s a grand total of 246 million tons of trash created in 2005. Luckily, that 246 million tons of MSW was computed before the recycling statistics were tabulated.
There’s one more piece of good news about MSW. Although Americans generated 246 million tons of MSW in 2005, that figure is 2 million tons smaller than the figure of MSW generated in 2004 – so a fair drop in MSW occurred in one year’s time.

Current United States Recycling Statistics

It’s good to note that if you visit the EPA, or another recycling website, you may see the term “Recovery” used in place of recycling; but they’re fairly interchangeable when discussing statistics. The (EPA) only updates recycling statistics every few years.
The last time they computed the national recycling figures was in 2005, for which the EPA shares the following United States recycling statistics:
  • Overall data from 2005 concluded that recycling trends were positively increased from 2003 (the last time statistics were figured).
  • Recycling and composting rates recovered 32.1 percent of MSW or 79 million tons. But this figure, you will recall, does not include hazardous, industrial, and construction waste. 32.1 percent is higher than before but still way too low.
  • Approximately 8,550 curbside recycling programs existed throughout the United States, a lower figure than the 8,875 programs that existed in 2003.
  • Composting programs, meaning that people recycle leaves and grass, and other organic items such as food, jumped from 3,227 in 2003 up to 3,470. For more details about how you can compost, read Building a Compost Bin.
  • Container and packaging recycling increased to 40 percent.
  • 62 percent of yard waste was composted, which is a good percentage.
  • 50 percent of all paper products were recycled -- or about 42 million tons.
  • From 1990 to 2005, the amount of MSW going to U.S. landfills has decreased by 9 million tons and continues to decrease each year. However, U.S. goals should and do continue to address the fact that these figures can be improved.

My State’s Better Than Your State

“My state’s better than your state,” should be the goal for each and every U.S. state. Childish? Maybe -- but drastic measures are necessary to curb the landfill and trash issues that the U.S. is facing. Make it your personal goal to see that your state not only stacks up, but surpasses other states in recycling trends.
Some states are already far ahead other states on the recycling curve. In Portland, Oregon, for instance, it’s surprising not to see curbside recycling bins -- while in Albuquerque, New Mexico it can be surprising to actually find someone who knows what recycling is, because of the sheer lack of curbside recycling programs available.
Some states currently offer well-used electronic recycling programs and others need to start them up. One of the best ways to get people torecycle drink bottles is to create bottle deposit regulations, but states differ on this. Using the same two states above, Oregon has a bottle deposit where you receive five cents back for each bottle you take to a deposit facility. The recycling areas for Oregon are everywhere and are easily accessible in places such as grocery stores.
Gallup, New Mexico has a recycling program for plastic bottles where you’re paid one cent for each pound of plastic bottles you recycle. The payment per pound for recyclables in Gallup is consistent with the rest of the states' recycling centers. You can take an entire van stuffed, as full as possible, with shredded paper to a local center in Albuquerque, and receive only three dollars for your time and effort. Which state do you think has better recycling rates?

How Does Your State Stack Up?

One of the best ways to improve United States recycling statistics is to start at the state level, community level, and home level. The more responsibility taken at lower links in the recycling chain, the better the national outcomes will be.
Most states provide recycling statistics of some sort, such as this Montana website. Visiting your personal state’s recycling page can provide you with valuable information about programs, statistics, ideas, and ways you can help make a difference by recycling. For instance, if you need to know where to recycle a certain type of biodegradable plastic, check your state website.
Usually, state recycling websites offer ideas on who to contact if you feel that your state isn’t doing its best. Consumer interest is a great way to get recycling programs going in your community.
Read Effects of Global Warming on the Earth if you need a small push in order to make yourself recycle and become more energy efficient..