How Much Trash Each American Produces in A Year

What would you do if no one came to pick up your trash? Or your neighbors' trash? What if no one picked up the trash anywhere in your entire community?

Would you let it pile up? At first it would look like this street in Manhattan. The pile would get bigger, and start to smell really bad. Animals would get into it, making a bigger mess. What are you going to do with it?

It's something we're facing as a nation, since countries like China, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia will no longer be accepting waste imports from the U.S., which for years sent nearly 4,000 shipping containers full of recyclables to China every day, according to USA Today, and most of what Americans conscientiously put in their recycling bins wasn't even recycled because it was contaminated (things like food and shampoo prevent plastic waste from being recycled.)

In municipalities around the U.S., the recyclables are starting to pile up, with some facilities so overrun that they have stopped sorting through it, and are sending it to the landfill instead.

Reducing consumption and waste is the first step to solving the problem. In 2015, Americans generated 262.4 million tons of trash. More than half, 137.7 million tons, ended up in landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

So what is all this trash we are throwing away? Based on data on municipal solid waste from the EPA, and the data crunchers at title lender TitleMax, this is all the trash one American produces in one year.

1. Wood
1. Wood

The Trash Each American Produces in One Year

1. Wood

  • 854.2 pounds per person

The EPA's data on municipal solid waste excludes construction waste. This category of wood includes wood packaging (crates and pallets,) furniture, other durable goods (such as cabinets for electronic equipment,) and some other miscellaneous products. Durable goods are items that last three or more years.

Photo: Shutterstock

2. Food Waste
2. Food Waste

2. Food Waste

  • 220.96 pounds per person

About 76% of food waste ends up in landfills, but could be composted.

Photo: Shutterstock

3. Corrugated Boxes
3. Corrugated Boxes

3. Corrugated Boxes

  • 187.77 pounds per person

Photo: Cari Rubin Photography / Shutterstock

4. Ferrous Metal Durable Goods
4. Ferrous Metal Durable Goods

4. Ferrous Metal Durable Goods

  • 92.80 pounds per person

The largest sources of ferrous metals (metals that mostly contain iron) are found in durable goods (goods that last three years or more) such as appliances, furniture and tires.

Photo: Photointoto / Shutterstock

5. Yard Trimmings
5. Yard Trimmings

5. Yard Trimmings

  • 91.53 pounds per person

Yard trimmings can be composted. In 2015, only 21 million tons of yard trimmings were composted, although that amount represents a fivefold increase since 1990, according to the EPA.

Photo: Shutterstock

6. Durable Plastics
6. Durable Plastics

6. Durable Plastics

  • 72.99 pounds per person

Manufacturers use plastic in durable goods such as appliances, furniture, casings of lead-acid batteries and other products.

Photo: Shutterstock

7. Newspapers
7. Newspapers

7. Newspapers

  • 53.38 pounds per person

Newspapers had a recycling rate of 76.8%, the EPA says.

Photo: Shutterstock

8. Glass Beer and Soft Drink Bottles
8. Glass Beer and Soft Drink Bottles

8. Glass Beer and Soft Drink Bottles

  • 35.22 pounds per person

Photo: Jonathan Park / Shutterstock

9. Folding Cartons
9. Folding Cartons

9. Folding Cartons

  • 34.97 pounds per person

This includes cereal boxes, frozen food boxes, and some department store boxes.

Photo: LunaseeStudios / Shutterstock

10. Office Papers
10. Office Papers

10. Office Papers

  • 30.25 pounds per person

Photo: Shutterstock

11. Other Plastic Packaging
11. Other Plastic Packaging

11. Other Plastic Packaging

  • 28.98 pounds per person

This includes clamshells, trays, caps, lids, egg cartons, produce baskets, coatings and plastic closures.

Photo: Shutterstock

12. Other Nondurable Plastics
12. Other Nondurable Plastics

12. Other Nondurable Plastics

  • 28.22 pounds per person

These plastics are found in products such as disposable diapers, medical devices and household items such as shower curtains.

Photo: Shutterstock

13. Other Non-Packaging Paper
13. Other Non-Packaging Paper

13. Other Non-Packaging Paper

  • 25.54 pounds per person

These papers, such as posters, photographic papers, cards and games, accounted for 3.7 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2015. The EPA did not identify any significant recycling of these papers.

Photo: Shutterstock

14. Plastic Bags, Sacks, and Wraps
14. Plastic Bags, Sacks, and Wraps

14. Plastic Bags, Sacks, and Wraps

  • 24.27 pounds per person

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year. About 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags each year.

Photo: Shutterstock

15. Mail
15. Mail

15. Mail

  • 23.06 pounds per person

Photo: Shutterstock

16. Tissue Paper and Paper Towels
16. Tissue Paper and Paper Towels

16. Tissue Paper and Paper Towels

  • 22.36 pounds per person

Photo: Shutterstock

17. Rubber (Not Tires)
17. Rubber (Not Tires)

17. Rubber (Not Tires)

  • 22.29 pounds per person

This rubber comes from clothing and footwear, and other miscellaneous items such as gaskets on appliances, furniture and hot water bottles.

Photo: Shutterstock

18. Rubber -- Tires
18. Rubber -- Tires

18. Rubber -- Tires

  • 19.24 pounds per person

The EPA estimated that 2.4 million tons of tires were recycled in 2015, roughly 40% of the total amount of rubber in tires generated that year. Pictured is a tire facility in Colorado.

Photo: Steven Liveoak / Shutterstock

19. Plastic Bottles and Jars (PET)
19. Plastic Bottles and Jars (PET)

19. Plastic Bottles and Jars (PET)

  • 17.77 pounds per person

PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate, the type of plastic.

Photo: designs by Jack / Shutterstock

Related: The Companies Whose Products Result in the Most Plastic Trash

20. Other Commercial Printing
20. Other Commercial Printing

20. Other Commercial Printing

  • 16.94 pounds per person

This includes a wide range of paper items, including brochures, reports, menus and invitations.

Photo: Shutterstock

21. Other Bottles and Jars (Not Alcohol)
21. Other Bottles and Jars (Not Alcohol)

21. Other Bottles and Jars (Not Alcohol)

  • 12.74 pounds per person

Photo: Shutterstock

22. Glass Durable Goods
22. Glass Durable Goods

22. Glass Durable Goods

  • 13.95 pounds per person

This generally refers to glass found in durable goods such as appliances and furniture.

Photo: Shutterstock

23. Glass -- Wine and Liquor Bottles
23. Glass -- Wine and Liquor Bottles

23. Glass -- Wine and Liquor Bottles

  • 11.78 pounds per person

Photo: Shutterstock

24. Steel Cans
24. Steel Cans

24. Steel Cans

  • 11.78 pounds per person

Most of these steel cans are for food products.

Photo: Shutterstock

25. Aluminum Goods (Durable and Non Durable)
25. Aluminum Goods (Durable and Non Durable)

25. Aluminum Goods (Durable and Non Durable)

  • 10.89 pounds per person

Photo: Shutterstock

26. Magazines
26. Magazines

26. Magazines

  • 9.36 pounds per person

Photo: Shutterstock

27. Other Paper Packaging
27. Other Paper Packaging

27. Other Paper Packaging

  • 9.30 pounds per person

This includes milk and juice cartons.

Photo: Eric Glenn / Shutterstock

28. Lead Durable Goods
28. Lead Durable Goods

28. Lead Durable Goods

  • 9.04 pounds per person

Lead is found in vehicle batteries as well as some appliances.

Photo: Shutterstock

29. Plastic HDPE Containers
29. Plastic HDPE Containers

29. Plastic HDPE Containers

  • 8.98 pounds per person

The EPA estimated that only about 30% of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) containers were recycled. They are mostly milk and water jugs.

Photo: Shutterstock

30. Aluminum Beer and Soda Cans
30. Aluminum Beer and Soda Cans

30. Aluminum Beer and Soda Cans

  • 8.28 pounds per person

The EPA Recommends:

  • Shop for products made with recycled materials
  • Buy items with less packaging, use refillable and reusable containers, and buy only what you need, especially when buying food.
  • At home, reuse bags, recycle electronics, and ask to be removed from paper mailing lists.
  • Compost food scraps and waste.

Photo: Shutterstock

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