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Did you know trash and garbage, commonly referred to as municipal solid waste (MSW), consists of normal household items such as paper, yard trimmings, plastics, food scraps, glass, and clothing, to name but a few items. Nationally, US residents produce almost 240 million tons of MSW annually, a number which has been rising consistently over the last 50 years. This means the average American disposes of approximately 4.5 pounds of trash per day
(USEPA, Municipal Solid Waste, 2005).

The most environmentally sound strategies for reducing MSW are ranked as source reduction, recycling and composting, and disposal via incineration or land filling. Recycling and composting divert some 72 million tons of material each year from the MSW stream. Automotive batteries are recycled at a rate of 93%, paper and paperboard at 48%, and yard trimmings at 56%. Together, yard trimmings and food residuals account for some 23% of MSW and clearly represent an area where composting can reduce the burden on a dwindling supply of landfill space (Marsh and Grossa 2005; USEPA. Composting 2005).

Over the last few decades, the generation, recycling, composting, and disposal of MSW have changed substantially. While solid waste generation has increased, from 3.66 to 4.34 pounds per person per day between 1980 and 2009, the recycling rate has also increased—from less than 10% of MSW generated in 1980 to almost 34% in 2009.Why? Packaging! Disposal of waste to a landfill has decreased from 89% of the amount generated in 1980 to about 54% of MSW in 2009 (USEPA 2009).


The numbers are in! This month, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality released its 2010 annual report on solid waste management in the Commonwealth. The total amount of solid waste generated by Virginians remained about the same—14.2 million tons. Some statistics of interest:

  • 65.6% of our solid waste is generated by households and businesses
  • 16.5% is construction and demolition debris
  • 76.8 % of our solid waste is landfilled
  • 12.6% is incinerated
  • Total municipal solid waste received from out of state decreased by 5.95%
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