The United States generated 243 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2009, according to a report recently released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2009 marked the second straight year that total MSW generation declined in the country. In 2008, we produced 251 million tons, down 4 million tons vs. 2007. While we still discard a whopping 4.34 pounds per person per day, the amount of waste we generate each year is finally trending down after more than 50 years of continued growth.
What’s behind the decline? The sluggish economy has obviously put a damper on our consuming ways but it appears something bigger is happening. Communities and companies are moving towards zero waste goals and consumers are growing increasingly aware of the need to preserve natural resources and reduce waste.
Today, over 70% of the U.S. population has access to curbside recycling programs and a growing number of communities are offering composting programs. In 2009, recycling programs recovered 61 million tons of MSW while composting programs, primarily of yard trimmings, recovered an additional 21 million tons. That’s a lot but much remains to be done. We still send nearly 30 million tons of food scraps to landfills every year and close to 12 million tons of yard debris. Clearly, achieving zero waste will require an increased focus on food scraps recovery. In San Francisco, food scraps composting is mandatory and contributed to the city achieving a diversion rate of 77%, the highest in the nation. Other communities and states, notably Massachusets, are considering doing the same.
A copy of “Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2009 Facts and Figures” can be downloaded from the EPA’s website. http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/msw99.htm