Waste and Recycling Statistics in the United States

Posted on: December 1, 2010

The Environmental Protection Agency compiles statistics about the generation and disposal of waste in the United States. According to the EPA’s 2008 report, Americans threw out 250 millions tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) that year, a huge increase from the 151.6 million tons of MSW that was generated in 1980. MSW refers to the trash that people tend to throw out in their homes and at work, including food scraps, yard trimmings, product packaging, and old appliances and furniture. MSW does not include industrial, construction, or hazardous waste. According to the statistics, the amount of trash that Americans are disposing of is increasing; at the same time, recycling rates in the United States continue to go up.

  • In 1980, 14.5 percent of MSW was recycled; in 2008, 33.2 percent of MSW was recycled
  • In 2008, the average person produced 4.5 pounds of waste each day, and recycled 1.5 pounds of that waste
  • An estimated 135 tons of MSW was sent to landfills in 2008
  • The highest recycling rates are for yard trimmings, paper products, and metals
  • Yard trimmings account for 13.2 percent of total waste produced in the United States in 2008
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