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PHOTOS: America's garbage problem

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, September 23, 2015, 5:01 PM - Americans throw out a lot of trash. In 2012, U.S. dumps took in 262 million metric tonnes of solid waste -- more than double previous estimates, according to a new study.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. had originally thought dumps would receive 122 million metric tonnes of trash in 2012, but newer, more accurate figures gathered under a government-mandated problem have provided new insight into just how much trash Americans are throwing away.

The U.S. is one of the most wasteful countries in the world. An analysis of figures from the same study found approximately 5 pounds of municipal solid waste per person are thrown out each day.

 Tomoka Landfill in South Daytona Beach, Florida, August 2008

Approximately 55% of the waste generated in the U.S. is residential.

Landfills are a huge generator of methane, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere 25 time more efficiently than carbon dioxide, the EPA reports.

Researchers say the improved stats will enable scientists to better calculate the amount of methane that's emanating from landfills.

The data may also inspire scientists to come up with better ways to reduce methane emissions. 


Organic waste is the second-highest component in U.S. landfills.

RELATED: 'Trash mountain' rises out of Mumbai, India

As much of 40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted -- equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month, according to the United Nations Environmental Program.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, producing food in the U.S. uses up 10% of the country's total energy budget, takes up 50% of its land and requires 80% of all U.S. freshwater consumed each year.

"Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten," The NRDC says on its website.

"This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year ... Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time." 


A 2013 study suggested Canadians throw out approximately 4.6 pounds of waste per person per day.

Canada was named the most wasteful country in the world, but this was prior to the publication of the updated statistics on U.S. waste generation.

The 2013 report found that, on average, Canadians use twice as much water as residents in other developed nations.

In 2014, it was reported Canadians waste $31 billion in food annually -- a 15 percent increase from 2010.

RELATED: Date labeling confusion leads to significant food waste

The report, commissioned by the consulting firm Value Chain Management International, found individuals waste 47% of the total amount of food discarded in Canada annually, with food manufacturing and processing being responsible for up to 20% of the waste. 

Sources: Science | EPA | UNEP | NRDC | CBC

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