Municipal solid waste (MSW) is the stuff we have used and no longer need. EPA’s MSW data does not include construction and demolition debris, hazardous, medical, radioactive or industrial waste, so this profile similarly excludes those items.

EPA estimates 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 estimates are based on sampling studies. EPA has used a consistent estimation methodology for four decades.

Waste data from the 50 states uses actual tonnages from disposal, recycling and composting facilities. State data shows more solid waste than EPA’s data. Using state data, Biocycle magazine estimated 389 million tons of solid waste were generated in 2008, a 24 million ton decline from the previous 2006 survey. The states do not count waste consistently, often including non-hazardous solid waste such as construction and demolition (C&D) and industrial waste.

In a more comprehensive survey, the Environmental Research and Education Foundation tallied all U.S. disposal facilities and estimated that 545 million tons of waste were managed in 2000, of which 146 million tons were recycled or composted. That data covers all non-hazardous Subtitle D solid waste managed outside of the generator’s facility.

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