Chapter 4: 38 Statistics About Waste Management That Will Blow Your Mind
We’re making too much junk.
We can only partially blame it on the advertising. “You need this,” “you want this,” “you can’t live without this.” Ads on social media, billboards on our commute to work, junk mail flooding our mailboxes. Every company yells the same message at us: you need more stuff.
The problem is that we’re creating more junk at a rate faster than the world can handle. Many people don’t even consider donating, recycling, or repurposing as options. A lot of junk ends up in landfills because of this.
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Below are only some of the staggering statistics from the impact of our junk. We’ll cover the amount of waste we create, where that waste is going, and how we’re doing with recycling.
- More than half the world’s population does not have access to regular trash collection. (source)
- The US creates over 624,000 metric tons of waste per day. (source)
- Nevada generates the highest amount of waste per person: 38.4 tons. (source)
- The United States has the highest amount of waste generated per person of any country, at an average of 4.6 pounds per day. (source)
- The US spends about $200 billion a year on solid waste management and lost energy resources from trash disposal. (source)
- The United States Municipal Solid Waste Management Market is set to surpass $25 billion by 2024. (source)
- Annual waste generation is expected to increase to 3.4 billion tons in 2050. (source)
- The US has more than 3,000 active landfills and more than 10,000 old landfills. (source)
- The US is on track to run out of room in landfills within 18 years. (source)
- Unregulated or illegal dumpsites serve about 4 billion people and hold more than 40 percent of the world’s waste, according to the World Bank. (source)
- Roughly 80 percent of the items buried in landfills could be recycled. (source)
- In 2015, landfilling accounted for 52.5 percent of all municipal solid waste. Recycling constituted 25.8 percent, while composting was only 8.9 percent. (source)
- Landfilling in 2017 was the most prominent form of waste removal, with over 60 percent of the total waste management market. (source)
- Global annual waste generation is expected to jump from 2.01 billion tons in 2016 to 3.4 billion tons over the next 30 years. (source)
- The treatment and disposal of waste created around 5 percent of total global emissions in 2016. (source)
There’s a drastic problem with plastic.
- 91 percent of plastic isn’t recycled. (source)
- A total of 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been produced, and 6.3 billion metric tons of that has become plastic waste. (source)
- The US plastic recycling rate could drop to 2.9 percent in 2019 if more bans are put in place. (source)
- The paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons disposed of annually could stretch 300 laps around the equator. (source)
- The US throws away as many as 35 billion plastic water bottles each year. Only some 25 percent of these are recycled. (source)
- Around 18 billion pounds of plastic trash winds up in our oceans each year. (source)
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating island of garbage, estimated to be about 617,000 square miles in size — that’s twice as big as Texas. (source)
- Around 66 percent of our energy could be saved by producing plastic products from recycled plastics instead of brand new materials. (source)
- Only 41 nations compile e-waste statistics. (source)
- By 2016, the world generated 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste and only 20 percent was recycled through appropriate channels. (source)
- An estimated 40 percent of the heavy metals in US landfills comes from discarded electronics. (source)
- Electronic waste represents 2 percent of the waste discarded in American landfills, but it equals around 70 percent of toxic waste. (source)
- The human race gets rid of approximately 350,000 mobile phones each day. (source)
- Of our total e-waste, approximately one quarter — or 9.3 million metric tons — consists of personal digital devices like computers, displays, smartphones, tablets, and TVs. (source)
- Only 12.5 percent of e-waste is recycled. (source)
- The amount of global e-waste is expected to grow by 8 percent per year. (source)
- It costs around $28 per ton to throw trash into a landfill. The cost to recycle is around $147 a ton. (source)
- We only recycle 30 percent of the total that could be recycled. The US throws away $11.4 billion worth of recyclable containers and packaging every year. (source)
- In 2015, we recycled 67.8 million tons of solid municipal waste, with paper and paperboard accounting for approximately 67 percent of the whole. (source)
- The recycling rate in 2015 (including composting) was 1.56 pounds per person per day. (source)
- China was importing about 40 percent of the US’s paper, plastics, and other recyclables before the new 2017 restrictions. (source)
- After the restrictions went into effect, recycled plastics from the US to China dropped by 92 percent over the first five months of 2018. (source)
- California was exporting about a third of the recyclable material it generated to China. (source)
The obvious response to the absurd amount of junk we’re responsible for is to be more conscious about donating first, then recycling and reusing second.
There are plenty of charities and non-profits that will help you give your unwanted items a second home. You can donate clothes, furniture, and even old mattresses to someone else in need. And if you have older appliances (like TVs, refrigerators, and freezers) in working order, you should consider donating these as well. A bit of repair can make an old appliance as good as new.
Donating should always be a top priority for junk, and whatever you can’t donate should be recycled. But even though the government pummels recycling into everyone's heads, it’s not especially easy to do. A lot of things have happened that make reusing and recycling everyday items a struggle:
China is limiting the amount of plastic it will take in.
China had previously taken in 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste imports. But the country decided to pass a ban on imported plastics that went into effect last year. This is causing trouble for countries that relied on shipping their plastics overseas. Now we have to find new solutions.
There isn’t enough recycling infrastructure.
There’s a push for businesses to be greener and more environmentally friendly. But existing infrastructure doesn’t support this. There are too few recycling centers and not enough specialty recycling outlets. We need places where we can drop off items like batteries, lightbulbs, and ink cartridges.
E-waste is becoming a larger issue as technology advances.
Almost every home in the US has a television, computer, and smartphone, if not several of each. As technology advances and newer models replace older ones, where do we dispose of these devices? They can’t fit into your trash can, so the first reaction is to send them to the landfill. But if these larger electronics end up in landfills, they cause two problems: they don’t break down for hundreds of years, and they leak chemicals like lead and mercury into the soil as they degrade.
These are only a few of the issues in the way to integrating better recycling, upcycling, and donating practices into our culture.
There isn’t one solution to fix all of these problems, but we think that sustainable junk removal is a good starting point.
Since our company’s founding in 2004, we’ve focused on providing eco-friendly junk removal services. When we arrive at a pickup, we make sure to handle the client’s junk professionally before sorting, donating, recycling, and upcycling it. It’s one small way that we give back to the environment and our communities.
By consciously exercising more care in how we get rid of junk, we can minimize the waste we generate and reduce our dependence on landfills.