Where can I find detailed statistics on the garbage sitting in landfills?
October 8, 2009 6:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for statistics on the types of garbage that's currently sitting in American landfills. Does anybody have any good resources for this? To be clear, I'm trying to find the percentage of paper, plastics, metal, etc as they contribute to the greater whole. Statistics from other countries are welcomed too.
posted by wandergeek to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The journal Biocycle estimates this data for the US on an annual basis (or at least up until 2006). I'd add the caveat that this data is pretty uncertain.
posted by gyroscope at 6:46 AM on October 8, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah, I've found these Biocycle stats before, but that's not exactly what I need. I need stats on what specifically is being thrown away and its contribution to the greater whole.

I'm actually most interested in finding stats on what and how much one average american throws away.
posted by wandergeek at 6:58 AM on October 8, 2009

For older refuse, I recall a landfill archeology project from a few years ago that quantified the types of trash by percentage. Though, the only specific I remember is that there was much more newspaper than expected.
posted by glibhamdreck at 7:44 AM on October 8, 2009

Our local landfill had pretty good records on that kind of stuff. So you might start there. Ours covers a pretty wide area, so is representative of this region, at least.

I do remember someone telling me construction waste was a large portion of all landfill. In our area there is at least one dump that is for construction waste only, so that would skew any stats from the other dumps. So you might consider getting stats also that reflect origin, not just type.

One of the managers of the local landfill told me they supported recycling even though it cost them money, because plastic was taking up a lot of room in the landfill. It won't compact much over time, unlike other forms of waste.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:32 AM on October 8, 2009

You want The Garbage Project. That wikipedia article is pretty thin, and I'm not sure if the project is still ongoing, but it's a place to start.
posted by nat at 8:56 AM on October 8, 2009

Have you seen the Municipal Solid Waste in the United States Facts and Figures that the EPA publishes? The do a short factsheet every year, but in 2007 they published a pretty comprehensive document with data from 1960-2007 that may have the information you're looking for. You can download it from the EPA website here.

They do include per capita information but just based on the US population and the national totals. I'm pretty sure these factsheets are where the Biocycle stats come from. Other than that I haven't seen any very comprehensive national source.

Sorry about the delay - I just noticed this question today!
posted by periscope at 9:13 PM on October 13, 2009

MSW facts and figures linked above is great.

Broader information:


Also of interest -- tracking/visualization of paper cup moving through waste stream:


And there is a trade group for garbage companies that puts out a bunch of booklets available by subscription with detailed numbers. I am struggling to remember the name, however.

As to estimates of waste, generally it's 4lbs garbage per person per day (including recyclables) which ends up averaging out to a few hundred pounds shy of a ton. Disturbingly high but I've heard it quoted several times. The composition of that 4lbs, however, is more fuzzy. Does not help for an estimate of how much currently sits in landfills but can help in estimating contribution to waste stream for population base.
posted by countrymod at 8:05 AM on October 15, 2009

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