Striking Stats

For an industry that has a reputation for never changing, the solid waste business sure looks different than it did several decades ago. For proof, all you need to do is look at the treasure trove of stats contained in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently released “Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2009 Facts and Figures.”

According to the report, the county generated 243 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2009, a decline of 3.2 percent from the amount generated in 2008. 2009 marked the second straight year that total MSW generation declined in the United States.

In addition to the detailed analysis of the 2009 MSW stream, the report also provides 50 years worth of MSW data, and the numbers are striking.

For example, as recently as 1988, approximately 7,920 landfills were in operation in the United States. With more stringent operating regulations in place, that number had plunged to 1,908 by 2009.

In 1960, nearly 94 percent of the MSW generated in this country was sent to a landfill — only 6.4 percent was recycled. By 2009, the national recycling rate had reached 33.8 percent, and 54.3 percent of MSW was landfilled.

In 1990, 145 million tons of MSW were landfilled; by 2009, the amount had dropped to 132 million tons.

What does the future hold? In his monthly Circular File column, “The Meaning of Less,” Chaz Miller predicts, “Disposal tonnages will continue to decline. Savvy solid waste managers and recyclers understand the need to be nimble in response to these changes. They will have to exploit these new realities.”

What about you? What do you think these trends mean for your business and the industry in general? Please e-mail me at [email protected] with your thoughts, and we’ll run some of the observations in a future edition of Waste Age.