How much do Americans throw away?

Americans represent 5% of the world’s population, but generate 30% of the world’s garbage.

In the U.S. industry moves, mines, extracts, shovels, burns, wastes, pumps and disposes of 4 million pounds of material in order to provide one average middle-class American family’s needs for one year.

In sum, Americans waste or cause to be wasted nearly 1 million pounds of materials per person every year. This figure includes 3.5 billion pounds of carpet landfilled, 3.3 trillion pounds of CO2 gas emitted into the atmosphere, 19 billion pounds of polystyrene peanuts, 28 billion pounds of food discarded, 360 billion pounds of organic and inorganic chemicals used for manufacturing, 710 billion pounds of hazardous waste and 3.7 trillion pounds of construction debris.

If wastewater is factored in, the total annual flow of waste in the American Industrial system is 250 trillion pounds. Less than 2% of the total waste stream in the United States is recycled.

For all the world to live as an American we would need two more Earths; three more if the population should double and twelve Earth’s altogether if worldwide standards of living doubled in the next forty years.

To put it another way...

  • • Americans throw away enough garbage everyday to fill 63,000 garbage trucks, which if lined up end to end for an entire year would stretch half way to the moon.
  • • In a lifetime, the average American will personally throw away 600 times his or her body weight, which for an average adult would leave a legacy of 90,000 pounds of trash at the end of their lifetime.
  • • Of the garbage Americans throw out, half could be recycled, which is enough to fill a football stadium from top to bottom everyday.
  • • Of these recyclables, Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild the entire commercial air fleet every three months, enough steel to reconstruct Manhattan, and enough wood to heat 5 million homes for 200 years.
  • • U.S. waste disposal costs exceed $100 billion annually.

See facts for each material:

Aluminum
Glass
Plastic
Paper
Cardboard
Steel

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