Keeping Score

ONE OF THE KEY responsibilities of the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) is to be the source for industry data. This article provides some basic information on the latest data related to municipal solid waste (MSW).

MSW is comprised of everyday items such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, plastic and glass bottles, food scraps, newspaper, appliances, and batteries. Some materials that generally are considered MSW and may be disposed of in MSW facilities have not been listed in the Washington D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) definition. Those materials include construction and demolition (C&D) debris, municipal wastewater treatment sludge and nonhazardous industrial waste.

According to the latest data from the EPA, 229.2 million tons of MSW were generated in 2001 — a decrease of 2.8 million tons from 2000. In 1960, only 88.1 million tons of MSW were generated, and the generation rate rose steadily until 2001, when it declined.

The per capita MSW generation rate was 4.41 pounds per person per day in 2001 — a decrease of 0.11 pounds per person per day from 2000. Since 1960, when only 2.68 pounds per person per day were generated, the per capita generation rate rose every year until 1990, when it declined slightly. The per capita generation rate rose again in 1999, and then declined the following two years.

The 229.2 million tons of MSW generated in 2001 can be analyzed by materials in the waste stream or by major product categories. Paper and paperboard products comprise the largest component of MSW generated at 36 percent, and yard trimmings comprise the second largest component at 12 percent. Glass, metals, plastic, wood and food scraps constitute between 5 percent and 11 percent of the MSW generated. Rubber, leather and textiles combined make up about 7 percent, while miscellaneous wastes make up approximately 3 percent.

By weight of product categories generated in 2001, containers and packaging comprised 32 percent, followed by nondurable goods (e.g. newspaper) at 26.4 percent. The third-largest category of products was durable goods (e.g. appliances) at 16.4 percent.

Edward Repa is the director, environmental programs, at NSWMA. He can be reached at (800) 424-2869 or