Every household produces personal waste every day that adds up to a staggering amount of garbage each year. In 2009 alone, the Environmental Protection Agency reports, municipal solid waste produced by American households, businesses and hospitals amounted to 243 million tons of trash, or roughly 4.3 lbs. per person per day (see References 1). In addition to common daily waste such as food scraps and paper, many other items contribute to the municipal solid waste stream, including yard waste, electronics and clothing. Although 82 million tons of this waste was recycled or composted in 2009, more than half ended up in landfills. The EPA estimates that 55 to 65 percent of total municipal solid waste in the U.S. comes from households (see References 1).
Paper and paperboard products account for the greatest amount of household personal waste generated in the United States. Americans use approximately 68 million tons of paper products each year (see References 2). This equates to the pulp of one 100-foot Douglas fir tree being used to make paper for each person each year (see References 2). Paper and paperboard also have the highest recovery rate through recycling or composting (see References 3, page 6), accounting for almost 43 million tons of waste recovered in 2009 (see References 3, page 5). This is more than 33 percent of all recyclables collected (see References 2) and means that more than 60 percent of the paper produced was recycled (see References 3, page 6).
Of all the municipal solid waste produced in 2009, 14.1 percent consisted of food scraps (see References 4). This might seem like small potatoes compared with other types of household waste, but it equates to more than 34 million tons of uneaten food thrown in the garbage each year (see References 4). The EPA estimates that less than 3 percent of this waste is recycled (see References 4).
Yard trimmings account for nearly 14 percent of all municipal solid waste (see References 1), and they totaled more than 33 million tons in the 2009 EPA figures (see References 3, page 5). Like paper goods, yard waste also has a high recycling rate, one that has improved significantly over the decades. Approximately 20 million tons of yard trimmings were composted in 2009, which is about five times more than that composted in 1990 (see References 3, page 6). The EPA says that recycling this portion of the 2009 municipal solid waste stream through composting alone prevented 26 percent of the total trash generated from reaching a landfill or combustion facility (see References 3, page 6).
Municipal solid waste materials include various durable and nondurable goods, such as textiles, rubber, leather, wood, metals, glass and plastic. According to the EPA, the recovery of nondurable goods, which are defined as having a lifespan of less than three years, was slightly more than 35 percent in 2009 (see References 3, page 8). By contrast, only 18 percent of durable goods as a group were recovered in the same year. Included within this category, however, are items with some of the highest recovery rates. Car batteries had a 96 percent recovery rate; newspapers, 88 percent; and large appliances, 67 percent (see References 3, page 9).
Karyn Maier has been a full-time freelance writer since 1992 specializing in health, particularly botanical therapies. She has written many feature articles and columns for numerous national magazines, including "Better Nutrition," "Your Health" and "Mother Earth News," and she has authored numerous natural health-related books currently published in four languages. She also has more than 10 years' experience as a legal assistant.
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