Alexander Morse, Rockefeller Institute of Government
The United States produces more garbage today than it ever has. In 2015 (the most recent data available), the US generated more than 262 million tons of municipal trash, an increase of 4.5 percent from the 2010 annual total and a 7.8 percent increase from the 2000 annual total. Although a 14 percent population increase may explain increased rates of total municipal waste, the US rate of garbage per person per day exceeds peer countries. Collectively, the US generates about 4.5 pounds of garbage per person per day, which is 55 percent more than, for example, the United Kingdom average of 2.9 pounds.
Everyday items like food scraps, clothing, furniture, batteries, and appliances — otherwise known as municipal solid waste — are disposed of, where it can take one of three paths: sorted and recycled, diverted to a waste-to-energy facility (e.g., incinerator), or tossed in a landfill. Each alternative presents its own unique challenge for developing waste management practices, including disposal availability and environmental safety.