Americans generate trash at an astonishing rate of 4.6 pounds per person per day, which translates to 250 million tons per year [source: EPA]. All of that trash has to go somewhere, and generally it’s a landfill. But what exactly is a landfill? And when did we start using them?
Since the beginning of agriculture, trash was a problem that was simply burned or piled up outside of the town. But, that solution was not sustainable for long. Due to environmental safety concerns, these solutions were banned due to contamination. Now, landfills are often the only sanctioned waste management solution. But landfills also have their drawbacks. They do not lend to quick decomposition—especially once sealed to protect against contamination. In fact, when old landfills have been excavated, 40-year-old newspapers have been found with easily readable print.
As you can see from the graph below, 28.5 percent of the waste we generate is from paper and paperboard. Here at CHOICES, we believe that it’s all the more important for us all to find ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. The good news is recycling and composting efforts are making strides to divert or reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills.
In 2010, 250 million tons of trash or solid waste was generated in the United States, but about 85 million tons, or 34.1 percent, was either recycled or composted. That’s an impressive amount of material that didn’t end up in landfills, and it prevented the release of approximately 186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of taking 36 million cars off the road!
Additional efforts to divert organic materials, such as food scraps and yard waste composting, are taking off in cities all across the U.S. and helping to reduce what’s sent to the landfill.
For more detailed reports and data on U.S. waste generation, recycling and disposal from past years, visit http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/msw99.htm.
And for more information on recycling and what you can do to help reduce the amount of waste going into landfills, please visit our Resource Room.