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America’s Trash Production

American Trash Production vs. The Rest of the World

It should come as no shock that we need a solution for the nation’s growing trash problem. The average American produces about 4.4 pounds of trash per day. That number in itself seems high, especially when compared to the global average of 2.6 pounds per individual. If you need further convincing, take a look at the map below that shows just how much America’s landfills have grown in the past century.


How Much Garbage Do Humans Make Every Year?

While the average consumer produces under five pounds of trash each day, a family creates about 17.4 pounds per day. Multiplying those numbers by 365 days for the year, is 1,606 pounds per person and 6,351 pounds per family. 

How do those numbers stack up against the EU?
If you look at residents in other developed nations, the amount of waste produced by Americans is considerably higher. For residents in the European Union, the average amount of trash generated by one person in a year weighs in at 1,047 pounds, or 475 kilograms.

Combating Trash Production With Recycling

One of the most popular waste diversion methods is recycling, but even though most cities offer recycling services we’re still lagging behind other advanced nations. 


While the United States has an average recycling rate, there is room for improvement. With other countries recycling as much as 62 percent of their waste, we should be looking to learn from their success.

In an effort to increase recycling rates, many municipalities across the nation are testing single-stream recycling. Instead of relying on residents to sort out 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 is simpler for consumers, it hasn’t been adopted everywhere because it’s difficult and expensive to sort. 

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. 

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 their packages account for as much as 71 percent of the waste stream in the U.S. Packaging alone accounts for about 30 percent.

The United States as a nation sends tons of trash to landfills over the course of a year. And since most of the waste is comprised of single-use products – think about your venti Starbucks coffee – we’ve earned the nickname “the throw-away society” by members of the green movement.

Be a Conscious Consumer

If you don’t fancy living next door to a landfill, there’s hope. Small changes add up to make a world of difference. The average family in the United States 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 a major source of waste in U.S. households, but composting technology is making it simple to recycle your orange peels. Place a small compost bins on the countertop, 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 full. Next time you go to toss something in the trash, make sure it’s not recyclable first.