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Solid waste means any garbage or refuse, sludge from a wastewater treatment plant, water supply treatment plant, or an air pollution control facility and other discarded material, including solid, liquid, semi-solid, or contained gaseous material resulting from industrial, commercial, mining, and agricultural operations, and from community activities. Solid waste does not include solid or dissolved materials in domestic sewage, solid or dissolved materials in irrigation return flows, industrial discharges that are point sources subject to permit under 33 U.S.C. 1342, or source, special nuclear, or by-product material as defined by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended (68 Stat. 923).

Subtitle D of RCRA encourages the States to develop and implement solid waste management plans. These plans are intended to promote recycling of solid wastes and require closing or upgrading of all environmentally unsound dumps.

Definition of Subtitle D Solid Waste - The term "solid waste," used in Subtitle D, refers almost exclusively to non-hazardous solid waste. Subtitle D covers all wastes not regulated by Subtitle C which regulates hazardous waste. Subtitle D covers certain hazardous wastes which are excluded from Subtitle C including household hazardous waste and hazardous wastes generated by small quantity generators. Section 100(27) of the Act defines solid waste as:

Garbage (e.g., milk cartons and coffee grounds), Refuse (e.g., metal scrap, wall board, and empty containers), Sludge from a waste treatment plant, a water supply treatment plant, or an air pollution control facility (e.g., scrubber sludge). Other discarded material, including solid, semi-solid, liquid, or contained gaseous material resulting from industrial, commercial, mining, agricultural, and community activities (e.g., boiler slag or fly ash).

A good definition of municipal solid waste is that it includes durable goods, non-durable goods, containers and packaging, food wastes and yard trimmings, and miscellaneous inorganic wastes.

To understand the RCRA definition of solid waste, keep in mind that not all solid waste is solid. As noted above, many solid wastes are liquid, while others are semi-solid or gaseous.


A total of 230 million tons of MSW was generated in 1999. This reflects an increase of more than 21 million tons from 1996 when MSW generation was over 209 million tons.

The per capita generation rate in 1999 was 4.6 pounds per person per day compared with 4.3 pounds per person per day in 1994.

Twenty-eight percent of solid waste, or 64 million tons, is recovered and recycled or composted, 15 percent, or 34 million tons, is burned at combustion facilities, and the remaining 57 percent, or 132 million tons, is disposed of in landfills.

Landfills manage 57 percent of MSW generated, or 132 million tons, which is down from 60 percent in 1994. Combustion facilities manage 15 percent, or 34 million tons, of the total MSW generated. This is down from the 17 percent that was managed in 1998.

There were over 9,300 curbside recycling programs in the United States in 1998, as well as nearly 9,000 drop-off centers for recyclables. More than 300 materials recovery facilities helped process the recyclables collected.

Recovery of paper and paperboard reached almost 42 percent, or 37 million tons, in 1999. This accounted for more than half of the total MSW recovered. In addition, more than 12 million tons of yard trimmings were recovered for composting in 1999 which accounted for the second largest fraction of the total recovered. The percentage of yard trimmings composted (45 percent) has tripled since 1992.


Per capita MSW generation was expected to remain relatively stable through the year 2000. The rate was expected to remain steady because, even though the per capita generation of certain MSW components would continue to increase, source reduction efforts are beginning to have an effect.

Generation of yard trimmings was projected to decline from 29.8 million tons in 1995 to 27.1 million tons in 2000. It was anticipated that the decline would result from source reduction efforts such as grass cycling and backyard composting. These reduction efforts were spurred on, in part, by legislation that was passed by many states which banned yard trimmings from landfills or charged residents separately for pick-up.

Generation rates for paper and paperboard, plastics, and wood are all projected to increase faster than the population until 2010. Generation rates for glass, metals, and food wastes are projected to increase at about the same rate as population growth during the same time period.

Annual generation of MSW is projected to increase to 253 million tons in 2010. Containers and packaging are expected to remain the largest category of products in MSW at 38 percent by 2010. Non-durables will remain the second largest category at 29 percent by 2010.

For the year 2010, possible recovery scenarios are presented for 30 and 40 percent recovery levels.

Combustion is expected to remain relatively unchanged, managing about 15 percent, or 39 million tons, of the total MSW generated by the year 2010.

While the percentage of total MSW being disposed of in landfills is decreasing, the actual tonnage was expected to increase from 118 million tons in 1995 to 125 million tons by 2010. However, as a result of the economic boom, the tonnage had already increased to 132 million tons in 1999. It is expected that landfill disposal will continue to be the single most predominant MSW management method in future years.


National averages show:

38.1% Paper
12.1% Yard Trimmings
7.8% Metals
10.5% Plastic
5.5% Glass
10.9% Food Waste
9.8% Other
5.3% Wood Waste

EPA Regulations on Municipal Solid Waste Landfills

USA Recycling Rates ( Source: BioCycle Magazine)

1992 14%
1993 17%
1994 19%
1995 23%
1996 27%
1997 28%
1998 30%
1999 31.5%
2000 33%

Region 3 The Mid-Atlantic States

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