Wasting Away: Our Garbage by the Numbers

WASTEFUL WAYS: Americans produced about 243 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2009, according to the EPA. Ranang Mubyarto/Shutterstock.com


.4 pounds

Trash the average American produces daily (EPA)

1,600 pounds

Trash the average American produces annually. With the garbage produced in America alone, you could form a line of filled-up garbage trucks that reach the moon. (EPA)

72 million tons

Amount of containers and packaging in 2009 in the U.S. municipal solid waste stream or MSW. Packaging makes up 30 percent of America's trash — the largest portion of MSW generated. (EPA)

60 percent

Amount of trash that can be recycled (U.S. Department of Labor)

13 percent

Amount of MSW that's actually recycled (Clean Air Council)

50 percent

Amount of household waste that can be composted (LSU)

How you can improve the numbers

Plastic bags

Number of plastic bags consumed in the U.S. every 5 seconds (Sierra Club)

Number of plastic bags consumed worldwide every 10 seconds (Sierra Club)1 billion

Number of plastic bags Americans use every year (Penn State University)

30,000 tons

Landfill waste created from plastic bags each year (Clean Air Council)

Less than 1 percent

Amount of plastic bags that are recycled (Clean Air Council)


Cost of recycling 1 ton of plastic bags (Clean Air Council)


The amount that recycled product can be sold for (Clean Air Council)

How you can improve the numbers


5 million

Sheets of office paper used in the U.S. every 5 minutes. The average American uses roughly the equivalent of one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood products each year. (EPA)

100 million

Number of trees cut down in the U.S. annually to make the paper for junk mail (Clean Air Council)


Pieces of junk mail that are printed, shipped, delivered and disposed of in the U.S. every 3 seconds. (Chris Jordan)

How you can improve the numbers



Estimated number of pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of the world's oceans (Clean Air Council)

2.4 million pounds

Amount of plastic pollution that enters the world's oceans every hour (Clean Air Council)

1 million

Number of plastic cups that are consumed on airline flights in the U.S. every 6 hours (Chris Jordan)

2 million

Number of plastic beverage bottles that are used in the U.S. ever 5 minutes. The number of plastic water bottles discarded in the U.S. every week could circle the Earth five times. (Plastic Pollution Coalition)

93 percent

mount of plastics that are not recovered and go to landfills in the U.S. (Plastic Pollution Coalition)


Number of disposable cups the average American office worker uses every year. (Clean Air Council)


Number of years a Styrofoam cup discarded today will remain in a landfill (Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo)

How you can improve the numbers


20 to 50 million metric tons

Amount of electronics the world throws away annually. That's the equivalent of trashing 45,500 to 125,000 fully loaded 747s each year. (Ewasteguide.info)

10-18 percent

Amount of electronics that are recycled. (Ewasteguide.info)

304 million

Electronics disposed of from U.S. households in 2005 — two-thirds of them still worked. (Clean Air Council)


Number of homes that could be powered for a year if we recycled all of the cellphones retired annually. (Clean Air Council)

How you can improve the numbers


96 billion pounds

Amount of food Americans waste every year. If only 25 percent of that food waste were recovered, we could feed 2 million people. (USDA)

25 percent

Amount of prepared food Americans throw away (Scientific American)


Cost of food thrown away by the average household of four (Scientific American)

How you can improve the numbers

Reduce your food waste

Use those leftovers — Treehugger has ideas for leftovers from spaghetti to hamburgers.