The Year in Trash

The U.S. EPA releases 2006 MSW data.

Last year, americans continued to recycle more municipal solid waste (MSW) despite generating more than ever. This trend, among others, was revealed in a 2006 MSW report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report shows that Americans managed to recycle 82 million tons of MSW in 2006, an increase of approximately 3 million tons from the previous year. However, consumers produced 251 million tons of MSW, an increase of nearly 5 million tons from 2005.

The number of landfills has steadily declined over the years, from 6,326 in 1990 to 1,754 in 2006. This, in turn, has increased the average size of each landfill due to increases in population. At the national level, the report claims recycling efforts have reduced the amount of MSW sent to landfills by 4 million tons, from 142 million in 1990 to 138 million in 2006. In the same period, the net-per-capita discard rate also has decreased from 3.12 pounds each day to 2.53 pounds each day.

The EPA estimates that recycling 82 million tons of MSW saved the energy equivalent of more than 10 billion gallons of gasoline, and each ton of mixed paper recycled saved the energy equivalent of 185 gallons of gas. In 2006, recovery rates for paper and paperboard, which accounts for 34 percent of all MSW generated in 2006, increased to more than 50 percent, totaling 44 million tons. Metals were recycled at a rate of 36 percent, and 62 percent of yard trimmings were recycled.

The EPA has tracked MSW generation and disposal data for more than 30 years. It defines MSW as anything consumers commonly use and throw away, but does not include industrial, hazardous or construction waste. For more of the report's findings, see p. 40.