Pollution and Wastes

How is municipal waste managed?

More than half of the municipal waste generated in the United States is discarded in landfills. The balance is either recovered through recycling programs or combusted with energy recovery.

Management of Municipal Waste (2008)
Method of Disposal Amount (millions of tons) Percent of Total
Discarded in landfills 135 54
Recovered through recycling and composting 83 33
Combustion with energy recovery 32 13
Total 250 100

How has disposal of solid waste to landfill facilities changed?

Landfilling has been an essential component of waste management for several decades. In 1960, 94 percent of all garbage was sent to landfills. During the following decades, although the amount of municipal solid waste increased, the amount going to landfills decreased. During the years 1990 to 2008, the total amount of waste going to landfills decreased from 142.3 million tons to 135.1 million tons.

Year Percent of Municipal Solid Waste in Landfills
1960 93.6
1970 93.1
1980 88.6
1990 69.3
2000 56.9
2005 55.6
2008 54.2

Much of this decrease was due to an increased amount of waste being recycled. As of 2008, there were 1,812 landfills in the continental United States. Although the number of landfills in the United States has decreased, the average landfill size has increased. At the national level, capacity of existing landfills is sufficient.


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