Municipal Solid Waste

Municipal solid waste (MSW) is the stuff we have used and no longer need. EPA's MSW data does not include construction and demolition debris, hazardous, medical, radioactive or industrial waste. This profile does not include those items.

EPA estimates the size of the waste stream using manufacturing production data, estimates of product imports and exports, and estimates of product lifetimes. Food and yard waste is estimated based on sampling studies. EPA has used a consistent database for four decades.

Compilations of state data using tonnage from disposal, recycling and composting facilities produce higher numbers. Using state data, Biocycle magazine estimated 387.9 million tons of solid waste were generated in 2005. State data often includes non-hazardous solid waste such as C&D and industrial waste. The 50 states do not count waste consistently.

In a more comprehensive look at the solid waste stream, the Environmental Research and Education Foundation surveyed all disposal facilities in the United States and estimated that 545 million tons of waste was managed in 2000. Of that number, 146 million tons was recycled or composted. That data includes all non-hazardous Subtitle D solid waste managed outside of the generator's facility.

Municipal Solid Waste Facts*:


  • 245.7 million tons.

  • 1,657 pounds per person per year.

  • 4.54 pounds per person per day.

  • Yard trimmings, corrugated boxes, food waste and newspapers are the largest items in MSW before recycling.


  • 58.4 million tons or a 23.8% recycling rate.

  • 1.08 pounds per person per day.

  • 394 pounds per person per year.

  • Corrugated boxes, newspapers, office paper and glass bottles are the most recycled by weight.

  • Lead-acid batteries, newspapers, corrugated boxes and large appliances (“white goods”) have the highest recycling rates.

Recycled Content:

  • Aluminum cans, recycled paperboard, corrugated medium and glass bottles contain large amounts of recycled content.


  • 20.6 million tons of yard and food waste.

  • 8.4% composting rate for all MSW.

  • 61.9% composting rate for yard waste.

  • 2.4% rate for food waste.

  • 0.38 pounds per person per day.

  • 139 pounds per person per year.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 166.9 million tons or 57.9% of MSW.

  • 3.08 pounds per person per day.

  • 1,124 pounds per person per year.

  • Food waste, yard waste, corrugated boxes and furniture are the largest items in the disposal stream.

Landfill Density (1997 data):

  • 323.8 million cubic yards of MSW landfilled.

  • Corrugated boxes, clothing and footwear, yard waste and food waste occupy the most space in landfills.

  • Aluminum cans and plastic bottles have the lowest landfill density.

  • Glass bottles and food waste have the highest landfill density.

  • An average pound of MSW has a landfill density of 739 pounds per cubic yard.

Source Reduction:

  • Backyard composting, grasscycling and product lightweighting successfully reduce the waste stream.

End Market Specifications:

  • ISRI Paper Stock, Ferrous, Non-Ferrous and Plastic Guidelines provide the specifications for individual recyclables.


“Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, Washington, D.C.,

Biocycle magazine,

Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries,

National Solid Wastes Management Association,

National Source Reduction Characterization Report, U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 1999

* All data from 2005 unless otherwise noted.