Municipal solid waste (MSW) is the stuff we have used and no longer need. The Environmental Protection Agency's MSW data does not include construction and demolition debris, hazardous, medical, radioactive or industrial waste. This profile also excludes these items.
EPA calculates the size of the waste stream by 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 estimation methodology for four decades.
All 50 states track actual tonnages from disposal, recycling and composting facilities. This data shows more solid waste than EPA's data. 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 construction and demolition debris and industrial waste, and states measure inconsistently.
In a more comprehensive survey, the Environmental Research and Education Foundation tallied all disposal facilities in the United States and estimated that 545 million tons of waste were managed in 2000, of which 146 million tons were recycled or composted.
2007 Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts
- 254.1 million tons.
- 1,686.3 pounds per person, per year.
- 4.62 pounds per person, per day.
- Yard trimmings, food wastes, corrugated boxes, glass bottles and newspapers are the largest items in MSW before recycling.
- 63.3 million tons, for a 24.9% rate.
- 1.15 pounds per person, per day.
- 419.75 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 office papers have the highest recycling rates.
- Aluminum cans, recycled paperboard, corrugated medium and glass bottles have high levels of recycled content.
- 21.7 million tons of yard and food waste.
- 8.5% composting rate for all MSW.
- 64.1% composting rate for yard waste.
- 2.6% rate for food waste.
- 0.39 pounds per person, per day
- 142.35 pounds per person per, year.
Incinerated or Landfilled:
- 169.1 million tons or 66.5% of MSW.
- 3.08 pounds per person per day.
- 1,124.2 pounds per person per year.
- Food waste, yard waste, glass bottles and corrugated boxes are the largest components of the disposal stream.
Landfill Density (1997 Data):
- 323,812,000 cubic yards of MSW was landfilled.
- Corrugated boxes, clothing and footware, 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 density.
- An average pound of trash has a landfill density of 739 pounds per cubic yard.
- Backyard composting, grass-cycling and product lightweighting successfully reduce the waste stream.
- ISRI Paper Stock, Ferrous, Non-Ferrous and Plastic Guidelines provide specifications for recyclables.
Biocycle magazine, www.jgpress.com/biocycle.htm
"Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2007," U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, www.epa.gov/osw
Environmental Research and Education Foundation, www.erefdn.org
Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, www.isri.org
National Solid Wastes Management Association, www.nswma.org
"National Source Reduction Characterization Report," U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, www.epa.gov/osw
Data is from 2007 EPA estimates, except where noted.