The US Produces Nearly 5 Pounds of Trash Per Day Per Person

Mish

What the heck do we do with it?

Global Leader in Trash

The US is the Global Leader in Trash Production.

At 4.9 pounds of trash per person, per day, the U.S. is the most wasteful country on the planet. Of the 292.4 million tons of refuse Americans generated in 2018, half was buried in landfills while another 32% was recycled or composted, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The rest was burned (the preferred term being “combusted”) to generate electricity.

Over the past three decades, the rate of U.S. recycling and composting has more than doubled. During that same period, however, the number of available landfills shrunk by about 74%. 

Exporting Garbage

Recycling may have doubled, but that's from a very low level.

Garbage exports went to zero thanks to Trump's trade war with China.

Since China stopped importing U.S. recyclables in 2017, cities have been scrambling to find new markets for plastics and other materials that would typically be repurposed, said Mike Ewall, a Philadelphia-based environmental activist and executive director of the Energy Justice Network.

Environmentalists says don't burn it and China will no longer take it.

Meanwhile, the number of landfills are shrinking. Many of the ones in existence are very poorly managed. 

Even double-lining is questionable. Single lining of landfills is a disaster in waiting.

Exacerbating the concerns of local residents isn’t just what’s going into landfills, but what’s coming out. According to Nichols, garbage imported for disposal contributes to leachate, a liquid that forms when rain water filters through garbage. The result is a toxic soup that can include mercury, arsenic and lead. 

Maine doesn’t test leachate for PFAS levels at commercial or state-owned landfills like Juniper Ridge, Nichols said, leaving the Penobscot tribe in the dark about the level of toxicity of the leachate being discharged into the river. The Maine DEP didn’t reply to requests for comment.

Landfills typically apply liners, or barriers made of plastic or clay, to prevent toxin from leaking out. Most states require a two-liner system, but Maine only requires one, said Peter Blair, an attorney with environmental nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation. “All landfills eventually have leachate seep out once liners start to disintegrate,” he said. “It’s not a matter of if it will leak, but rather when.” 

Fully Compliant With Loose Standards

In a statement, Casella Waste Systems said the Juniper Ridge Landfill is “fully compliant” with Maine environmental regulations.

Casella collects a “tipping fee” from ReEnergy for taking its waste. Fees for construction and demolition debris vary, but range from $33 to $95 per ton, according to the state’s environmental agency. 

If You Cannot Export to China 

Garbage Imports

In Chester, Pennsylvania, residents live with the fallout of imported waste in the air they breathe. The small town of 33,000 is home to the Covanta Delaware County combustion plant. More than one-third of municipal solid waste accepted by the facility last year came from Delaware.

And in Maine, more than 90% of the 230,000 tons of construction waste ReEnergy accepted in 2019 came from out-of-state.

Cost of Recycling

In the beachside resort town of Ocean City, Maryland, recycling was discontinued in 2009 after the financial crisis crippled its budget. 

“The cost to recycle doesn’t make financial sense for many municipalities,” Changaris of the waste industry group said. “But it has to go somewhere.”

The big problem with recycling, as I see it is trying to do too much. 

Most recycling makes little sense but clean aluminum cans do, and perhaps clean pre-separated other things.

But to dump everything together in one bin, coupled with over-zealous people attempting to recycle the last bit of paper covered with cheese or tomato sauce makes a mess out of the whole bin.

And where is the message on how to recycle properly?

What About Styrofoam?

Waste companies give you bins but they never tell you what to do with things like Styrofoam. 

In case you didn't know, in the vast majority cities, Styrofoam does not belong in your curb side recycling bin.

If you take that cardboard shipping box padded with Styrofoam and crush it all down in the bin, you just screwed up. 

You have to go out of your way to find a center that will take the stuff. 

Where to Recycle Styrofoam

I just looked up Where to Recycle Styrofoam.

Styrofoam that ends up in landfills does not break down at all. And although it only makes up roughly 2% of waste by weight, it takes up a whopping 30% in volume of overall solid waste, primarily due to its widespread use in product packaging.

A quick phone call to your local recycling center or waste management company will allow you to quickly curb some of that waste if, in fact, they accept EPS. Since expanded polystyrene is also made up of carcinogenic chemicals keeping it out of our landfills whenever possible is of great importance.

I was very aware of all this and have been since college, decades ago.

Question of the Day

How many confuse recycling Styrofoam with recycling plastic?

And if your plastic is covered with cheese, well guess what?

I am pretty meticulous about putting in the bin what belongs. But if the practice is not widespread, it is worse than useless because costs go up but the garbage heads to the landfill anyway. 

My Degree

I got a degree in environmental engineering from the University of Illinois in 1976. 

I studied leachates, landfills, liners, and recycling. My first job was for a private firm working on a contract for the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Chicago. 

Almost No Progress

For all the amazing progress in nearly every other aspect of life, we are still using one liner landfills and we still do not know how to handle Styrofoam peanuts.

I would much rather see genuine progress in this area than the political meme of the day, manmade global warming due to CO2.

Carbon Addendum

Due to the inevitable pushback by the climate fearmongers regarding the above paragraph, let's discuss carbon.

Let's say we accept that manmade CO2 is a problem and the scientists are 100% correct. Let's further assume that none of the lies and data manipulations by various scientists never happened. 

Finally, let's ignore all of the idiotic predictions that have been made allegedly based on scientific analysis.

What's left are idiotic proposals from Al Gore, AOC and others cost $50 trillion to $90 trillion.

I have yet seen a CO2 plan that is politically acceptable with a reasonable price. All the catastrophic predictions have been absurdly wrong and in my opinion purposely so to stir alarm. 

For what? In an absurd plan to stop the oceans from rising 8 inches or a foot or whatever in the next century when the fact of the matter is the US only produces 14% of the carbon.

50 Years of Dire Predictions

In case you missed it Let's Review 50 Years of Dire Climate Forecasts and What Actually Happened.

Here's point #21 of dire forecasts made in 2014. "We have 500 days to Avoid Climate Chaos" said then Sec of State John Kerry and Biden's current climate czar. 

Scientifically speaking, I have a question: Have 500 days passed? 

All of these hype stories are actual lies to get the politically correct agenda going now. 

CO2 Stats

  • Please note that the US reduced its carbon footprint from 6.13 billion tons in 2007 to 5.28 billion tons in 2019.
  • Meanwhile, China increased its footprint from 6.86 billion tons in 2019 to 10.17 billion tons in 2019.
  • In the same timeframe, global output rose from 31.29 billion tons to 36.44 billion tons.
  • In 2007, the US accounted for 19.6% of the total global carbon footprint.
  • In 2019, the US accounted for only 14.5% of the total global footprint.

Key Questions

  1. How much money are we willing to spend to reduce our 14.5% and falling percentage of carbon emissions?
  2. What would it cost to cut that by half in 10 years?
  3. Assuming we could cut that in half in 10 years, what would it do to total carbon output?
  4. By what force do we get China, India, and all the developing economies in the Mideast and Africa to reduce their carbon output?
  5. Assuming we achieve number 4 peacefully by some sort of economic buyout like cap-and-trade what is the cost to the US?
  6. What about inflation?
  7. Sure, China is producing goods for the US and EU but do we want that to stop? When? Why? How? Cost?
  8. Does not China, India, Africa, etc., have the right to improve their standards of living?
  9. What do the above points imply about the US standard of living?
  10. How the hell do we pay for this?

Accepting Science

This is not a matter of "accepting science" as the climate fearmongers say.

It's a matter of coming up with a reasonable plan to do something sensible about it, knowing full well the oceans are going to keep rising for the next 100 years anyway!

Understanding My Point

Until someone can put a realistic price on Climate Change that addresses my questions above, forgive me for not agreeing that a total rise in the ocean of 3 inches in the last 20 years is the existential threat of our time.

The major irony in the climate hype is that if we focused on the environment first and CO2 second we would be doing something for both while addressing the immediate concern now.

Mish

Comments (50)
No. 1-21
AnotherJoe
AnotherJoe

Well it all starts educating the public and taxing. Educating: Why do you need to put bananas in a plastic bag? I mean they come with their own wrapper. Taxing: whenever you want less of anything, you make it expensive. So we pay by the amount of water, electricity that we use. It would not be hard to add tech to run a tally of how much you send to the landfill. The more your waste the more you pay. At least that extra money can be use to pay environmentalist firms to clean and secure landfills.

Eddie_T
Eddie_T

It seems like rural counties in Texas have been the quickest to close landfills. Urban counties like Travis and suburban counties like Williamson still have landfills.....but Burnet County and Llano County, where I have rural property, do not.

The “waste transfer station” in Llano County near my lakehouse only takes construction waste...which I guess they are forced to deal with....but they don’t take ordinary household garbage.

This kind of place makes money recycling metal, chipping wood from tree-trimmers and making compost...but sends the remodeler's and home-builder’s trash in dumpsters to some other county. I asked the attendant, and she didn’t even know where it was going.

They certainly won’t take a large variety of things.....like old AC units for instance. Or anything remotely chemical....

The City of Austin has a monster of a recycling program...but during the early months of COVID it shut down....at least for ordinary citizens.

We (my family) now create much more recyclable trash than “wet garbage”.....but they no longer have us sort it.....which seemed to make sense......but it all goes in one bin now, that’s what they want.........my wife and daughter are very dedicated to trying to do it right,,,,,but who knows what happens once it leaves the bin at our house.

My wife has a list of places she can take the recycling that the trash service won’t take.....plastic grocery bags, several other types of plastic, electronics, etc., etc. I let her deal with it..but I’m glad she cares enough to make it one of her missions.

Styrofoam has potential use as a building material, mixed with something like Portland cement to make a strong lightweight aggregate. I knew an alternative builder who used it.....but it probably won’t pass muster with the building code people...dunno about that.

Reuse is far better than recycling. We try to reuse everything we can....paper bags, plastic bags....

One pet peeve of mine is the way all consumer items seem to be “security packaged” in those heavy molded plastic bubbles with cardboard.....those things constitute way more of the trash than I’d like to see.

Sechel
Sechel

Both are problems. To increase the amount of C02 in the atmoshere and to pretend it will have non impact is arrogant. Dumped garbage, plastic etc just winds up destrying our watersupply and plastics get wind their way into the ocean

ohno
ohno

Living in a rural area it seems bridges are a popular dumping spot. I actually paid a couple rednecks $100 a day for a week to clean one spot up near my place.

Dr. Manhattan23
Dr. Manhattan23

Industrial Hemp. It can be used to make everything from plastic bottles to cups, to packaging. Growing hemp also sucks out anywhere from 3X to 10X the amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere. From an environmental perspective, it's everything you would want including natural biodegradability. From a business standpoint, tons of opportunity with plenty of upside

numike
numike

‘Only when he has suffered does the fool learn.’ –Hesiod

Zardoz
Zardoz

Ultimately humans produce 3 things: Sewage, garbage, and offspring. It's what we do.

davebarnes2
davebarnes2

My personal feeling is that there is lots of empty land in Kansas.
And, it is Kansas.

Doug78
Doug78

Dump it into the Subduction zones of plates marginal to some continents. Plate tectonics will drag the waste deep down into the mantle where it will be melted down and recycled. In thirty million years the waste, now recycled will well up as lava in volcanos. By that time it will be someone else's problem. You may think it ridiculous but it is seen as the best long-term recycling method in scientific circles. Needs more work on safe packaging before it's possible.

njbr
njbr

Components of solid waste by weight...

Paper/paperboard 23.1%
Food 21.6 %
Yard trimmings 12.1%
Metals 8.8%
Glass 4.2%
Plastics 12.2%

Paper/paperboard can be recycled. Food waste can be plowed under in fields and allowed to reduce to fertilizer. Yard trimmings should not be allowed to take up space in a disposl facility. Metals and glass have markets, already. Plastics are a problem, still.

Eliminate landfilling of yard trimmings and reduce landfill disposal by half of the remainder of the items above and it would be a 50% cut in total landfill weight.

CaliforniaStan
CaliforniaStan

"I would much rather see genuine progress in this area than the political meme of the day, manmade global warming due to CO2." Climate change is not a "political meme". It is a scientific fact. Exactly how it will play out is unknown, but the general contours are known.

I am astonished that an environmental engineering graduate can't accept it.

JonSellers
JonSellers

As someone who worked for a county government for awhile, here's the dirty secret: metals get recycled if you put them in the recycling bin. So do cardboard boxes that don't have pizza stains. Everything else goes to the landfill. Plastics, no plastics, get recycled, none. They used to send them to China, but the chinese decided it was a hell of a lot cheaper just to make new plastics (and it is). There is no market for the stuff you throw away. Except for metals, it is always cheaper to manufacture new stuff than it is to recycle old stuff.

Yes we are destroying the planet for our children and grandchildren. Screw 'em. They chose to be born too late. We're Americans!

zurtkz
zurtkz

The science behind climate science is debatable. The fact that we are polluting the sh*t out of the environment is not

KidHorn
KidHorn

A big part of the problem is online ordering. I recently bought a jigsaw puzzle from amazon. The box was over 2x bigger than the jigsaw puzzle box and was full of packaging material. It was a jigsaw puzzle. Basically indestructible.

Jojo
Jojo

I religiously separate the garbage per our rules. Styrofoam is supposed to go in the landfill bin. I complained but got nowhere with the garbage company or the township.

Plastic wrapping, of which there is far too much, is collected separately by me and then taken over to the local Safeway or Lucky supermarket stores, which supposedly recycles them somewhere.

Plastic waste is the worst as it typically takes decades if not centuries for the plastic to deteriorate. In the proces, the plastic gets broken into microbits and nanoparticles that become part of our environment and which we then wind up eating or breathing daily. This environmental pollution may be one of the prime reasons why male sperm quality is declining.

I also collect cans and recyclable bottles and take them over to recycle location for cash $$.

I'll also call companies now and then and asked why they were using so much wrapping or putting their products in those colored plastic TV dinner dishes (which are NOT recycle due to the coloring)? Generally I'll get a reply like "we are working to have a lower environmental footprint by some future date, like 2025". But it wouldn't hurt if more people called the 800 numbers typically printed on the packaging and asked them similar questions.

bradw2k
bradw2k

Interesting info, thanks. I wonder how much these problems have been exacerbated by gov regulations creating dysfunction. ... A dump that doesn't protect enough against leachate sounds to me like a violator of property rights. ... Is the safe disposal of garbage properly priced??

We've just started using Ridwell, a service that picks up weird recycling every other week. Because somehow we never get around to taking dead batteries or light bulbs to the proper recycling center ... but they also take plastic film that you'd think would be recyclable but generally isn't. https://www.ridwell.com/what-is-plastic-film
Ridwell also take all kinds of unexpected items that can be either recycled or donated.

Call_me_Al
Call_me_Al

Wish-cycling, another paving block on the road to hell.

Aside: It is remarkable that so many of our disposable, single-use items are made of materials that don't break down for millennia.

Chartist
Chartist

I own property in Pa leased as a sanitary landfill. And since I get paid a royalty based on tonnage, I am happy to take in a lot more. We were once ground zero for NJ waste, but now, thanks to the Pa taxes on imported waste, we get bypassed as the trash heads to Ohio.

Hilayu77
Hilayu77

Thank you for this healthy news and this time I used https://www.readersdigest.co.uk/health/shop-cbd-oil-uk which is a wonderful solution. I like that I can buy different healthy tips and treats against my problems with health and it is a wonderful way for me.

methyltertbutylether
methyltertbutylether

Cheap money (thank you fed) and a national policy of consumerism (remember George Carlin, "Go out and buy some jewelry and a new car otherwise the terrorists win."

To top that off, real discussion on the issue of waste gets bogged in partisan politics and extremes of various interest groups. Garbage is dirty business.


Global Economics

FEATURED
COMMUNITY