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Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: Facts and Figures

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Municipal Solid Waste | Industrial Waste

Municipal Solid Waste

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 2010, Americans produced about 250 million tons of MSW, or about 4.3 pounds of waste per person per day.

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

For waste that requires disposal it is important that it is done in ways that protect human health and the environment.

Landfills are engineered areas where waste is placed into the land. Landfills usually have liner systems and other safeguards to prevent polluting the groundwater. Combustion of MSW is done to reduce the amount of landfill space needed and to generate electricity

Currently, in the United States, 34 percent is recovered and recycled or composted, about 12 percent is burned at combustion facilities, and the remaining 54.3 percent is disposed of in landfills.

Resource Conservation

Recycling and composting prevented 85 million tons of material away from being disposed of 2010, up from 18 million tons in 1980. This prevented the release of approximately 186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the air in 2010—equivalent to taking 36 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.

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Industrial Waste

Industrial or commercial waste is often a significant portion of solid waste, even in small cities and suburbs. Unlike residential waste, this waste is usually collected by private waste management companies. EPA has developed guidelines and tools to help municipalities better manage industrial waste. Some of the most common types of industrial waste include:

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