EPA Reports on Trends in Municipal Solid Waste

Since 1980, the total annual generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) has increased more than 60 percent to its 2005 level of nearly 246 million tons per year, according to a report EPA announced on May 25.

The document, "Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2005," states that excluding composting, MSW recovered through recycling rose to more than 58 million tons, 5.7 tons more than in 2004. Composting recovered nearly 21 million tons of waste. The total MSW recovery rate, which includes both recycling and composting, was just more than 32 percent in 2005.

Sources of MSW include both residential and commercial locations. Residential waste (including waste from apartment houses) was estimated to be 55 percent to 65 percent of total MSW generation. Waste from schools and commercial locations, such as hospitals and businesses, constituted 35 percent to 45 percent of MSW.

Organic materials continue to be the largest components of MSW. Paper and paperboard products account for about 34 percent of the waste stream, with yard trimmings and food scraps accounting for about 25 percent. Plastics comprise 12 percent; metals make up 8 percent; rubber, leather, and textiles account for 7 percent. Wood follows at 6 percent, and glass was estimated at 5 percent. Finally, other miscellaneous wastes made up approximately 3 percent of the MSW generated in 2005.

In 2005, recycling paper and paperboard recovery rose to 42 million tons. Metals were recycled at a rate of nearly 37 percent, and 62 percent of yard trimmings were recovered. In 2005, more than 33 million tons of MSW were combusted with energy recovery, and about 133 million tons went to landfills or were otherwise disposed.

The report also states that the number of MSW landfills has steadily declined over the years. On the other hand, average landfill size has increased. At the national level, landfill capacity appears to be sufficient, although it may not be in some regional areas.

The report and previous reports in the same series are available at http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/msw99.htm.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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