Facts and Figures about Municipal Solid Waste in America

In 2016, an estimated 19 percent of local government meetings nationwide addressed the topic of solid waste issues. That’s according to Waste Alert, an organization that monitors the agendas of city council and county commission meetings in five western states.  The report reveals that the most dominant solid waste issues had to do with finance, facilities, infrastructure, and planning.

“Local regulators are under considerable pressure from incumbent haulers, competitors, as well as recycling and other advocates, to amend—sometimes significantly—solid waste and recycling ordinances. That pressure results in a wide variety of responses from local elected officials, ranging from deliberation to regulatory change,” the report noted.

Following are some key facts and figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding solid waste management in the United States in 2014, the most recent year surveyed.[1]

  • Approximately 258 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) were generated nationwide.
  • 90 percent of corrugated boxes were recycled.
  • Approximately 61 percent of yard trimmings were composted.
  • Organic materials such as paper and paperboard, yard trimmings, and food were the largest component of MSW.
  • The 89 million tons of MSW that were recycled or composted resulted in an annual reduction of 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, which is equal to the annual emissions from more than three million automobiles.
  • 33 million tons of MSW were combusted for power generation.
  • The remaining 136 million tons of MSW which weren’t recycled, composed, or converted to energy were ultimately disposed in landfills.

 

Did You Know?

* There are 3091 active landfills in the U.S.[2]

* The first modern sanitary landfill in the United States was opened in Fresno, California in 1937[3]

* North Americans throw away an estimated 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.[4]

* Up to 40 percent of America’s food supply ends up as waste material.[5]


[1] https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-11/documents/2014_smmfactsheet_508.pdf
[2] www.zerowasteamerica.org/landfills.htm
[3] http://historicfresno.org/nrhp/landfill.htm
[4] http://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/recycling-facts
[5] https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf