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.


This study concluded that methane output from the nation’s landfills may be double what the EPA claims due to an underestimation of how much trash is thrown out. Landfills are one of the biggest sources of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and the research found that landfills took in 262 million tons of waste in 2012. The full study is available here

This page provides an overview of RCRA in addition to more details about how the EPA controls hazardous substances from “cradle-to-grave.” More information is available here

The full report is available here