Municipal Solid Waste in the United States - Statistics & Facts

Waste management methods in the United States are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). It encourages the environmental departments of each state to develop plans to manage municipal solid waste. Waste management includes all activities and actions required to manage waste from its source to its final disposal. It encompasses the collection, transport, treatment and disposal of waste. Municipal solid waste is commonly known as everyday garbage and trash produced by households, commercial and institutional entities.

In general, waste generation increases during times of strong economic growth and decreases during times of economic decline. Overall, the United States generated 262 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2015 – 3 million more than generated the previous year. Approximately 67.8 million tons of waste was recovered for recycling in 2015. During the period from 2000 to 2015, municipal solid waste generation declined from 4.74 pounds per person per day to 4.48 pounds per person per day, respectively.

Currently, most municipalities in the United States use recycling to convert waste into reusable material which can lead to benefits, such as a reduction in the consumption of new raw materials, energy usage, water, and air pollution. Recyclable materials include glass, paper, plastic and metal. However, the type of material accepted for recycling depends on the municipal’s recycling programs. Recycling procedures can differ between cities due to the resale value of the materials. The reuse of biodegradable waste, largely consisting of food scraps and yard trimmings, can also be considered as a type of recycling. Usually, recyclable materials are collected separately from general waste through the use of other vehicles and bins.

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