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Release Date: 12/15/1994
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More Americans are composting and recycling, resulting in a 22 percent national recycling rate and a reduction in waste going to municipal landfills and incinerators in 1993, according to a report released today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The average American generated 4.4 pounds of waste per day in 1993, which contributed to the 207 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in 1993. The report, entitled "Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 1994 Update" (EPA530-S-94-042), gives a national picture of MSW trends in the United States from 1960 through 1993.

"Recycling and composting are two common sense ways all Americans can become part of the environmental solution in their own communities," said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. "This report shows that reducing and reusing the waste from your yard and home makes a positive difference in the protection of our environment.

"These trends noted in this report are proof that recycling, waste minimization and pollution prevention are policies that work and make environmental and economic sense for America," Browner added.

Composting of yard trimmings is well established in many communities and was found to be increasing rapidly due to state-wide bans of such waste in landfills. While an estimated 32.8 million tons of yard trimmings was generated in 1993, almost 20 percent was diverted from landfills and delivered to composting facilities. In 1993, yard trimmings contributed 16 percent of the municipal solid waste stream compared to 23 percent in 1960.

If these recycling and source reduction efforts continue, EPA projects that waste generation will decrease by the year 2000 to 4.3 pounds per person per day. To a large extent, this decrease will be due to increased backyard composting of yard wastes such as grass clippings and leaves. Also contributing to the decline will be efforts by manufacturers to reduce packaging. Source reduction activities also include efforts to cut down on the amount or toxicity of MSW before it reaches the municipal solid waste stream.

Even with significant source reduction efforts, waste generation is projected to increase to 218 million tons by the year 2000 due to consumer demands and population growth. However, if recycling trends continue, EPA projects that MSW sent to combustion and landfills will decrease from 162 million tons to 152 million tons by 2000.

In terms of waste generated, paper and paperboard products are the largest component of the MSW stream by weight (38 percent generation) and yard trimmings are the second largest component (16 percent of generation). Five of the remaining materials in the municipal solid wastestream -- glass, metals,

plastics, wood and food wastes -- range from six to nine percent each by weight of total MSW generated. Other materials in MSW include rubber, leather, textiles and small amounts of miscellaneous waste, which each made up approximately three percent of MSW in 1993.

In 1993, combustion facilities managed 16 percent of the total generation or 33 million tons of MSW. Sixty-two percent, or 129 million tons of MSW, was sent to landfills or otherwise disposed and 22 percent was recovered for recycling and composting. In 1985, 83 percent of MSW was landfilled compared to 62 percent landfilled in 1993. Even with this reduction, landfilling continues to be the single most predominant waste management method.

Recovery of materials for recycling and composting increased from 33 million tons or 17 percent in 1990 to 45 million tons or 22 percent in 1993. Recovery of paper and paperboard accounted for over half of this increased tonnage. Yard trimmings for composting contributed the next largest increase in tonnage recovered.

Up until the 1980s, recovery for recycling remained at relatively low levels, about 10 percent of the MSW generation. In the late 1980s, new approaches to solid waste management were needed and recycling and composting began to increase. Recovery rates increased from 13 percent in 1988 to 22 percent in 1993.

The report can be obtained electronically on Internet through the EPA Public Access Server at "" beginning Dec. 12, 1994. For a free copy of the executive summary the public can call the RCRA/Superfund Hotline at 1-800- 424-9346.

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