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Curbing Americas Trash Production: Statistics and Solutions

How Much Waste We Really Produce

As Americans, we create an enormous amount of trash. The average person produces about 4.4 pounds per day, and most of it is comprised of recyclable items.

If you compare the amount of garbage we create to the global average of 2.6 pounds per day, we’re on the high end. To keep up with the increase in curbside pickup volume, landfills have grown in number. Space is quickly filling up, and that rate will increase now that China has banned foreign waste.

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Exactly How Much Garbage Do Humans Make Every Year?

The average American consumer produces just under five pounds of trash each day, while a family creates about 17.4 pounds. Multiplying those numbers by 365 days for the year, it all adds up to:

  • 1,606 pounds per person
  • 6,351 pounds per family

These numbers are considerably higher than the averages for residents in other nations. For example, in Europe, the average amount of trash generated by one person in a year weighs in at 1,047 pounds. 

What We Throw Out Each Year

  • 21.9 billion plastic bottles
  • 28 billion glass jars and bottles
  • 26 billion pounds of clothing and textiles
  • 35 million tons of food
  • 1.8 million tons of e-waste
  • 68.6 million tons of paper/paperboard

Stats from Recycle Across America and EPA.gov.

So, Where Does All This Trash Come From?

The 258 million tons of waste generated in the United States each year is primarily paper and paperboard waste, both of which can be recycled. Other large sources of trash include food waste, yard debris and plastics. 

According to UpStream, products and packaging account for as much as 71 percent of the waste stream in the U.S. Packaging alone accounts for about 30 percent. 

Most of our waste is made up of single-use products – think about your daily venti Starbucks coffee. It’s why we’ve earned the nickname “the throw-away society” by members of the green movement.

How to Tackle Our Trash Problem

Combating Trash Production With Recycling

To increase recycling rates, municipalities are testing single-stream recycling. Rather than residents sorting plastic, glass, cardboard and paper, it’s all put into the same bin. Waste is then taken to a materials recovery facility, or MRF, for sorting and recycling. While this program has benefits, some cities can’t afford the sorting technology. 

 If your city doesn’t offer single-stream recycling, read our Recycling Guide for tips to simplify the process, and ensure that all your recyclable items make it to the right facility. 

"Recycling is a great way to reduce what goes into a landfill, and it also saves energy. It takes far less energy to repurpose recyclables than to make glass, plastic, paper and other products from scratch."
Arthur Murray | Save On Energy

Waste-to-Energy Plants

Waste-to-energy plants use trash as a fuel to generate power. “In 2015, the latest year for which stats are available, 71 waste-to-energy power plants and four other plants burned municipal solid waste, eliminating 29 million tons of garbage,” Arthur Murray of Save On Energy explains. “They generated nearly 14 billion kilowatt hours of electricity – enough to power nearly 2.5 million homes for a year.” 

Outside of recyclable and compostable items, biowaste and commercial garbage are ideal candidates for combustion.

"For every 100 pounds of municipal solid waste in the U.S., more than 85 pounds can be burned, releasing heat that can turn water into steam that can turn a turbine to generate electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Take 85% of the garbage our of every landfill in the U.S. and all of a sudden you've opened up a lot of room."
Arthur Murray | Save On Energy

Conscious Consumerism

Small changes add up to make a world of difference. The average U.S. family uses about 1,500 plastic bags each year, so simply bringing reusable bags with you to the grocery store can drastically cut down on the amount of trash sent to landfills every year. 

Food waste is another major source of waste in U.S. households, but composting technology is making it simpler to recycle your orange peels. Consider placing a small compost bin on the countertop or under your sink to collect kitchen scraps for your compost

Take an active role in reducing the amount of trash you throw away each day, and you might be surprised when a week goes by and your garbage can isn’t as full as it used to be.