In the United States alone, the amount of municipal waste tripled between 1960 and 2002. It reached a peak of 369 million tons (335 million metric tons) in 2002. Experts say the increase was due partly to population growth, but mostly to the consumption and disposal practices of average American residents. According to a 2003 report by the Earth Engineering Center of Columbia University, each and every American generates approximately 1.21 tons (1.1 metric tons) of garbage each year.
In 2007, the last year for which there are data, the EPA calculated that Americans produced 254.1 million tons (230.5 million metric tons) of municipal solid waste (MSW). Between 55 and 65 percent of this MSW came from residential sources. The rest—between 35 and 45 percent—was produced by commercial and institutional locations such as schools, hospitals, and businesses. According to the EPA, containers and packaging made up the largest portion of MSW (31 percent), followed by nondurable goods (products that are consumed or used quickly, such as toilet paper—24.5 percent), durable goods (products that are made
to last more than three years, such as refrigerators—17.9 percent), yard trimmings (12.8 percent), and food scraps (12.5 percent). Paper and plastics led the list of materials discarded, at 32.7 percent and 12.7 percent respectively.
Of the 254.1 million tons (230.5 million metric tons) of waste, about 24.7 percent was recycled, about 8.6 percent was composted, and about another 12.6 percent was incinerated. A little more than half of the waste generated by Americans in 2007— about 53.9 percent (137 million tons or 124 million metric tons)— was buried in landfills. The EPA boasts that this percentage has decreased since 1980, when 89 percent of MSW was placed into landfills. Yet because the total quantity of garbage has increased over this period, the amount of waste landfilled in 2007 was still more than the amount buried in 1980.
Statistics about the amount of garbage produced globally are not easily found, but other developed countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom have waste management records similar to that of the United States. Some developed countries such as Japan, Denmark, and Germany appear to do a much better job at recycling the municipal-waste stream than the United States, while many less-developed nations have a growing trash problem. Overall, the amount of trash produced by earth's human population is increasing faster than the rate of population growth.
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