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10 Facts About Municipal Solid Waste and Recycling Rates (and 5 Things You Can Do About It)

How Much Waste Does the US Produce Each Year?

According to a 2017 study by the EPA, the U.S. generates approximately 268 million tons of trash each year, or 4.5 pounds per person each day. And while about 75% of America’s waste is recyclable, we only recycle about 35.2% of it. The current recycling rate is more than double the 14.5% rate in 1980, but our country still has a long way to go to effect change. Here are some hard-hitting facts about municipal solid waste (everyday trash items) and statistics that show how we can reduce the impact of our country’s waste.

US Trash Facts Infographic

United States Trash Facts Infographic

5 Trash Fact Takeaways: Where We Go From Here

Do you know what happens to trash after you throw it away? Human trash statistics in the U.S. are astounding, but there’s still hope for our environment. Here is an overview of the most common materials thrown away each year and the positive impact recycling them can have.

  1. If we recycle a single aluminum can, we would save enough energy to run a computer or TV for three hours. 
  2. Each year, Americans throw away enough plastic bottles to circle the earth four times. By recycling one ton of plastic waste, we can save approximately the amount of water used by one person in two months’ time or two households’ energy consumption for one year.
  3. The U.S. uses more than 67 million tons of paper each year. By recycling one ton of paper, we could save 17 trees.
  4. If the food thrown away by U.S. households every year were composted, it would reduce the same amount of greenhouse gas as taking 2 million cars off the road. 
  5. Recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. To put that in perspective, Americans throw away more than 11 million tons of glass bottles and jars each year.

What You Can Do to Reduce the Impact of Your Waste

To reduce the impact of our waste on the environment, we need to reduce the amount of trash we dispose of by recycling, composting and waste prevention. 

Easy waste prevention tactics include buying used items when possible, looking for products that use less packaging, and purchasing reusable items or ones made from recyclable materials. Understanding what can and can’t be recycled is equally important, as “wish-cycling” can do more harm than good.

Another simple way to live a more sustainable life is to be aware of your carbon footprint and learn how to reduce it. You can also create a compost bin in your backyard to easily divert unnecessary waste from landfills, while boosting your garden with nutrients. 

In addition, we recommend learning more about the effects of e-waste on the human body and ways you can recycle or repurpose your old devices. While electronic waste (cell phones, TVs, computers, etc.) represents only 2% of America’s trash in landfills, it equals 70% of the overall toxic waste. Fortunately, there are several options available to dispose of your electronics without harming the environment. 

Finally, adopting planet-friendly habits in your daily life is easier than you might think. Check out these helpful guides to start reducing, reusing and recycling at home.