Why Our Landfills Are So… Full

OK, so we all know about the environmental benefits of recycling. Compared to throwing our trash into a landfill, recycling can have a significantly positive impact to the environment.

But how much trash are we actually throwing into landfills each year?

Here are some figures from the United States and the United Kingdom.

United States Landfill Usage
According to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2006, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash. Of this, 82 million tons (32.5 percent) was recycled. A further 31 million tons (12.5 percent) was combusted (burned) with energy recovery. That means that 138 million tons (55 percent) was discarded in landfills.

The report also shows that the amount of garbage produced each year is increasing quite rapidly. In 1960, when EPA first started monitoring waste usage, the US produced 88.1 million tons of garbage. This worked out to be 2.68 pounds per day for each American. Now, with the nation producing 251.3 million tons of garbage per year, the average American produces 4.6 pounds of garbage each day!

Here’s a chart showing the increase in garbage since 1960. The blue line represents the total garbage generation each year (in millions of tons). The orange line represents per-capita generation (pounds/per person/per day).

Here’s the full report: Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006 [PDF file]

United Kingdom Landfill Usage
Meanwhile in the UK, the Environmental Services Association (ESA) has found that 434 tonnes of waste is produced in the UK each year. Of this, 30 tonnes come from households. 73 percent of this waste goes to landfill.

ESA point out that of the 73 percent that ends up in landfill, 90 percent could actually have been recoverable. This means that instead of being dumped in a landfill, it could have been recycled, composted, or combusted to generate energy.

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