Environment Recycling & Waste Wasting Away: Our Garbage by the Numbers By Laura Moss Laura Moss Writer University of South Carolina Laura Moss is a journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing about science, nature, culture, and the environment. Learn about our editorial process Updated February 18, 2021 Share Twitter Pinterest Email WASTEFUL WAYS: Americans produced about 243 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2009, according to the EPA. Ranang Mubyarto/Shutterstock.com Environment Plastics Zero Waste arbage .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 Avoid overpackaged products Strive to produce less waste Buy in bulk Recycle Compost Plastic bags60,000 Number of plastic bags consumed in the U.S. every 5 seconds (Sierra Club)240,000 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) $4,000 Cost of recycling 1 ton of plastic bags (Clean Air Council) $32 The amount that recycled product can be sold for (Clean Air Council) How you can improve the numbers Use reusable shopping bags and produce bags Fight plastic bags in your city Paper 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) 9,960 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 Reduce paper waste in the office Green your paperwork Stop the junk mail Recycle Plastics 0,000 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) 500 Number of disposable cups the average American office worker uses every year. (Clean Air Council) 500 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 Reduce your plastic waste Don't buy bottled drinks Use reusable bags and produce bags Get involved with anti-plastic campaigns E-waste 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) 18,500 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 Green your e-waste Recycle your electronics Repurpose or recycle your cellphone Food 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) $590 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.