American households, commercial establishments and institutions like schools and hospitals created 250 million tons of waste in 2010. This is what the EPA refers to as “municipal solid waste” (MSW) for which it compiles extensive data every year. Residential garbage makes up 55 – 65% of MSW.
If we look by material, paper makes up the largest percentage of municipal waste – a whopping 28.5%. By one estimate, that's a 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree's worth of paper for each person in the U.S. each year.
Second on the list is food scraps at 13.9% then yard trimmings close behind at 13.4%.
Plastic products come in next at 12.4% of our total toss-outs. Though plastic is fourth on the list, its overall recycling rate is quite low (only 8% compared to 62% for paper) so most of it ends up in landfills.
In terms of product categories, the largest percentage of garbage comes from containers and packaging. That's 30.3% or 76 million tons of trash, a little less than half of which was recycled in 2010.
The Three R's
Interested in cutting down on what you throw away? There are plenty of things you can do to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” your way to less trash.
First off, slow that steady flow of junk mail by contacting the Direct Marketing Association and asking them to remove your name from their mailing lists. Signing up for electronic statements from your bank and credit cards allows you to print only what and when you want to. Save money and reduce packaging waste by buying from market bulk bins or in family-sized containers.
Another great way to reduce consumption? Opt for reusable grocery bags instead of the old paper or plastic.
Recycling is getting easier these days with more programs, both public and private, some with cash incentives. Don't have curbside recycling in your town? See the Earth911 link below for a search engine of recycling centers.
You can also recycle paper and cardboard, yard trimmings and a good deal of food waste by composting. Composting is easy, doesn't require much space and your garden will reap the benefits.