How much trash does an average American produce? Over 30 years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency started collecting data on waste, and in 2018 alone, the Municipal Solid Waste generation in the United States stood at 292.4 million tons. That means an average American produces about 4.9 pounds daily – an enormous amount of garbage.
The amount of trash America produces is staggering, but where does the trash come from, and what strides are being made to reduce the trash crisis? Here are facts, figures, and reasons why America produces that much waste, as well as the strides that have been put in place to reduce waste and pollution.
What Trash Items Do Americans Throw Away? Total Municipal Solid Waste by Material
The key contributors to America's surge in waste generation include the growing population, urbanization, and economic growth.
According to the United Nations DESA, the global population is expected to increase by about 68% by 2050, indicating that the waste generation trends can intensify in the coming years. Reports also indicate that food waste is the largest source of Municipal Solid Waste at about 24%, closely followed by plastics.
So, where does the trash come from, and why does it matter? The landfills in the United States account for approximately 146.1 million tons of waste, which includes the following items:
- Food – 24.14%
- Plastics – 18.46%
- Paper and paperboard – 11.78%
- Metals – 9.53%
- Wood – 8.32%
- Textiles – 7.73%
- Yard trimmings – 7.21%
- Glass – 5.17%
- Rubber and leather – 3.42%
- Misc. inorganic wastes – 2.24%
- Other – 2.01%
Why Does Trash Generation in the U.S. Matter?
Even though America is home to only 4% of the global population, it's responsible for about 12% of global municipal waste.
The United States’ consumption and waste disposal system is polluting the environment and threatening the health of both humans and wildlife. According to Frontiers, about 16.5 million tons of plastic waste are swept into the oceans yearly.
Reports also indicate that the United States is responsible for more plastic trash globally than any other country. It also ranks third among coastal countries contributing to illegally dumped trash, litter, and other mismanaged waste materials along the shorelines.
Meanwhile, out of the total amount of plastic waste generated in the U.S., less than 10% of it is recycled. That means the country has a lot more work to manage its waste. The plastics in our environment can kill marine animals by poisoning them, entangling them, or blocking their digestive systems.
In addition to contaminating water, wasteful habits can also contribute to air pollution, which is dangerous. For instance, burning trash in incinerators releases various toxic emissions like lead, carbon monoxide, mercury, dioxins and furans, nitrogen oxides, and metals. When the facility workers and the residents nearby get direct exposure to such toxins, they risk their health.
On top of that, trash generation is also a leading cause of climate change and global warming. The creation of greenhouse gas emissions can happen during production, waste disposal, and even transportation of products and materials.
So, What Can We Do About the Trash Generation Crisis?
As you throw out things, it's important to consider how much you contribute to the amount of waste generated annually. That said, it's inevitable that, as a human, you will produce waste throughout your daily life. However, you can reduce your waste production to help lessen the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
Some of the ways that can help reduce the waste generation and pollution crisis include:
Be more conscious and mindful: As a consumer, you need to be mindful of the packaging when purchasing any product. For instance, you can opt for recyclable or minimal packaging to help reduce unnecessary waste generation. You can also reduce your daily usage if you use a lot of items that produce waste.
Make use of the available recycling opportunities: Plenty of materials can be recycled, so be sure to check the labels on things you toss in the trash can to ensure they wind up in recycling instead of garbage.
The Bigger Picture: How Is America Making Strides to Reduce Waste Generation?
There are tons of ways to help reduce waste generation, the main one being to lead a greener lifestyle. Given that the recycling rate of plastics is about 8.7%, it means that about 91% of the plastics get incinerated or dumped in landfills. The main way to protect the environment from harmful waste is by eliminating or using fewer products that contribute most to waste generation.
To keep the environment clean, address the climate crisis, and protect wildlife, the U.S. needs to work towards having a zero-waste future. So, what is the country doing to reduce the waste generation crisis? With the Clean Air Act (1970), there's 66.9% less pollution, and Americans are leading healthier and longer lives.
According to an EPA report, greenhouse gas emissions in the United States totaled about 5,982 million Mt of carbon dioxide equivalents, which is about 13.2 trillion pounds. Statistics indicate that the total represents a 7% decrease compared to 1990 statistics and a 20% decrease since 2005. Even though statistics show that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have decreased, Americans still have a long way to go.
Over 40 years of promoting clean air policies, there has been a significant improvement in air quality in the environment, as well as the health of Americans. The EPA has set and implemented various emission standards to help control pollution, a move that has seen a dramatic reduction in pollution from vehicles, marine and locomotive engines, construction equipment, and fuels while still achieving economic growth. For example, the introduction of cleaner cars, fuels, and more efficient train engines has helped reduce air quality.
Trashcans Unlimited for Waste Management
Tackling the trash problem requires a joint effort, and you can make a massive difference by ensuring you have a place to put your recyclables and other trash properly. Sorting your recyclables when binning your waste will ensure that all the recyclables make it to the suitable facility for recycling. For the best deals on recycling bins, browse through our high-quality trash can collection and get one that fits your needs.