Solid Waste

Solid Waste

According to the latest EPA data, Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash in 2011 and recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.7 percent recycling rate. Municipal solid waste does not include industrial, hazardous, or construction waste. It is things that we commonly use and then throw away such as packaging, food waste, computers, and furniture. Hazardous has any of the four characteristics: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity.

Organic materials comprise the largest percent of municipal solid waste. Paper and paperboard are next at 28 percent and yard trimmings and food waste accounts for another 28 percent.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) set forth a framework for the management of non-hazardous wastes, as well as giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to control hazardous waste from the 'cradle-to-grave,' which includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. RCRA treats hazardous waste and non-hazardous wastes very differently. For hazardous waste there is much more reporting required in all phases of disposal.


Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D. Senior Scientist at NRDC Urban Program.


Summary of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2011.
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