Municipal solid waste (MSW) is the stuff we have used and no longer need. The Environmental Protection Agency's MSW data does not include construction and demolition debris, hazardous, medical, radioactive or industrial waste. This profile also excludes these items.

EPA calculates the size of the waste stream by using manufacturing production data, estimates of product imports and exports, and estimates of product lifetimes. Food and yard waste is estimated based on sampling studies. EPA has used a consistent estimation methodology for four decades.

All 50 states track actual tonnages from disposal, recycling and composting facilities. This data shows more solid waste than EPA's data. Using state data, Biocycle magazine estimated 387.9 million tons of solid waste were generated in 2005. State data often includes non-hazardous solid waste, such as construction and demolition debris and industrial waste, and states measure inconsistently.

In a more comprehensive survey, the Environmental Research and Education Foundation tallied all disposal facilities in the United States and estimated that 545 million tons of waste were managed in 2000, of which 146 million tons were recycled or composted.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington. E-mail him at: cmiller@envasns.org.