Why Recycling is Important
Whether we use the 4.6 pounds/person/day or 4.3, that is still too much trash per person for the environment to deal with. Thinking of the extraction of the raw materials, transportation and manufacturing process, packaging, marketing and distribution, stores and purchasing, then use of the product and then the disposal of the product and all that it has entailed (repeat, repeat, repeat again) – that is an awful lot of garbage. And we are not even talking about what might be hazardous wastes in that mining or manufacturing part of the production process of the item.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. By reducing and reusing, consumers and industry can save natural resources and reduce waste management costs. Unfortunately, the amount of waste generated in the United States has been increasing. Between 1960 and 2009 the amount of waste each person creates increased from 2.7 to 4.3 pounds per day. This results in about 243 million tons of waste generated in the US in 2009.
Waste prevention, or “source reduction,” is the strategy behind reducing and reusing waste. By designing, manufacturing, purchasing, or using materials in ways that reduce the amount or the toxicity of trash created, less waste is generated and fewer natural resources are used. Reuse is often part of the waste prevention strategy, stopping waste at the source due to preventing or delaying a material’s entry in the waste collection and disposal system.
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SMART BET (Saving Money and Reducing Trash Benefit Evaluation Tool)
In communities with pay-as-you-throw programs (also known as unit pricing or variable-rate pricing), residents are charged for the collection of municipal solid waste—ordinary household trash—based on the amount they throw away. This creates a direct economic incentive to recycle more and to generate less waste.
Traditionally, residents pay for waste collection through property taxes or a fixed fee, regardless of how much—or how little—trash they generate. Pay-As-You-throw (PAYT) breaks with tradition by treating trash services just like electricity, gas, and other utilities. Households pay a variable rate depending on the amount of service they use.
Most communities with PAYT charge residents a fee for each bag or can of waste they generate. In a small number of communities, residents are billed based on the weight of their trash. Either way, these programs are simple and fair. The less individuals throw away, the less they pay.
EPA supports this new approach to solid waste management because it encompasses three interrelated components that are key to successful community programs:
- Environmental Sustainability - Communities with programs in place have reported significant increases in recycling and reductions in waste, due primarily to the waste reduction incentive created by PAYT. Less waste and more recycling mean that fewer natural resources need to be extracted. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacture, distribution, use, and subsequent disposal of products are reduced as a result of the increased recycling and waste reduction PAYT encourages. In this way, PAYT helps slow the buildup of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere which leads to global climate change. For more information on the link between solid waste and global climate change, go to EPA's Climate Change Web site.
- Economic Sustainability - PAYT is an effective tool for communities struggling to cope with soaring municipal solid waste management expenses. Well-designed programs generate the revenues communities need to cover their solid waste costs, including the costs of such complementary programs as recycling and composting. Residents benefit, too, because they have the opportunity to take control of their trash bills.
- Equity - One of the most important advantages of a variable-rate program may be its inherent fairness. When the cost of managing trash is hidden in taxes or charged at a flat rate, residents who recycle and prevent waste subsidize their neighbors' wastefulness. Under PAYT, residents pay only for what they throw away.
EPA believes that the most successful programs bring these components together through a process of careful consideration and planning. This Web site was developed as part of EPA's ongoing efforts to provide information and tools to local officials, residents, and others interested in PAYT.
To find out more about how these programs work, review the following sections:
- Communities - View maps showing the kinds of programs communities are using, read testimonials from local planners, or find a program near you.
- Articles & Research - Read through studies from the growing body of PAYT research and browse more than 50 magazine articles on PAYT.
- Resources - Explore products designed to help communities plan and implement a program.
- Topics - Find detailed information on PAYT organized by topic, complete with links to case studies and related products.
- Links - Connect to other Web sites containing additional ideas and material on PAYT.
- Frequent Questions - Review answers to frequently asked questions about these programs.
- Site Map - Scan a complete, linked list of this site's contents for the information you need.
Thousands of communities across the country are using PAYT to manage trash in a way that is fair, economically sound, and environmentally sustainable. EPA hopes that this Web site will provide you and your organization with all the information you need.
If your habits resemble those of average Americans, you generate about 4.6 pounds of solid trash per day.
Every year, the United States generates approximately 230 million tons of "trash"--about 4.6 pounds per person per day. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled; the rest is incinerated or buried in landfills. With a little forethought, we could reuse or recycle more than 70 percent of the landfilled waste, which includes valuable materials such as glass, metal, and paper. This would reduce the demand on virgin sources of these materials and eliminate potentially severe environmental, economic, and public health problems.
Could We Bury It?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, many of the country's landfills have been closed for one or both of these two reasons:
- They were full.
- They were contaminating groundwater. The water that flows beneath these deep holes is our drinking water. Once groundwater is contaminated, it is extremely expensive and difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to clean it up.
Could We Burn It?
Yes and no. Incineration does generate energy, but at a cost--it may release toxins into the air and create ash that requires disposal in hazardous-waste landfills, and that takes us back to our starting point:
Cities are running out of places to put their trash.
Could We Pay Someone to Take It?
Not likely. As our population grows, former outlying areas are becoming bedroom communities, and their residents mount stiff opposition to plans for expanding existing landfills or creating new ones, even in return for some perks. And as local and state government officials cope with the costs and problems of their own waste disposal, they are less willing to import other communities' waste and the pollution it generates. So where does this leave us?
The Environmental Protection Agency reports the United States produces approximately 220 million tons of garbage each year. This is equivalent to burying more than 82,000 football fields six feet deep in compacted garbage. There are no statistics readily available for the entire planet, but considering the United States makes up about 4% of the world's population, this is a LOT. I would personally estimate the entire planet's yearly production of garbage to be somewhere in the vicinity of 4 to 5 BILLION tons.
Here are more opinions and answers from others:
- Enough to cover Texas twice. This also fills enough trucks to form a line to the moon.
- Each American makes about 4 pounds of garbage daily. If the rest of the world produced as much as Americans, there would be about 10 MILLION tons daily, or 4 TRILLION tons yearly.
- I have an educational video that I show my students that states on average Americans generate 4.3 pounds of trash per day. Do the math: 4.3 X 365 = 1569.5 pounds per person per year. 285 million people in the US = 447307.5 Million pounds of trash. I am not confident of the final answer since I believe the figure was consumer trash production on average and did not account for industrial waste, but it is a start.