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Municipal Solid Waste

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Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)—more commonly known as trash or garbage—consists of everyday items we use and then throw away, such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries. This comes from our homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses.

Each year EPA produces a report on MSW generation, recycling, and disposal.

In 2012, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash and recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.5 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.38 pounds per person per day (Figure 1 and Figure 2).

EPA encourages practices that reduce the amount of waste needing to be disposed of, such as waste prevention, recycling, and composting.


2011_msw_gen_rates
Figure 1. MSW Generation Rates, 1960-2012
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Figure 2. MSW Recycling Rates, 1960-2012
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Figure 3. Recycling Rates of Selected Products, 2012*
* Does not include combustion (with energy recovery).
** Mechanical papers include directories, newspaper inserts, and some advertisement and direct mail printing.
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In 2012, newspaper/mechanical papers recovery was about 70 percent (5.9 million tons), and about 58 percent of yard trimmings were recovered (Figure 3). Organic materials continue to be the largest component of MSW. Paper and paperboard account for 28 percent and yard trimmings and food waste account for another 28 percent. Plastics comprise about 13 percent; metals make up 9 percent; and rubber, leather, and textiles account for 8 percent. Wood follows at around 6 percent and glass at 5 percent. Other miscellaneous wastes make up approximately 3 percent of the MSW generated in 2011 (Figure 4).

This section describes the requirements for disposal and combustion of Municipal Solid Waste:

Resource Conservation

Recycling and composting prevented 86.6 million tons of material away from being disposed in 2012, up from 15 million tons in 1980. This prevented the release of approximately 168 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the air in 2012—equivalent to taking over 33 million cars off the road for a year. Learn more about how common wastes and materials, including food and yard wastes, paper, metals, and electronics, contribute to MSW generation and how they can be recycled.


Figure 4. Total MSW Generation (by Material), 2012
251 Million Tons (before recycling)

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