Turns out the Environmental Protection Agency’s method of relying on local estimates to measure how much trash Americans have been flooding their municipal landfills with has been shorting the real number by almost 50 percent.
A study by Yale researchers examining municipal landfill records found the average American was actually tossing about five pounds per person per day into landfills, for a total of 263 million metric tons in 2012. That same year the EPA estimated it was just 123 million metric tons. Researches used data recorded by municipal landfills starting in 2010 as part of an effort to curb methane emissions, with a pool of more than 1,200 landfills.
Besides the shock of overhauling how we estimate trash production, there’s a lesson that Americans aren’t recycling as much as was assumed. During 2012, the EPA estimated Americans recycled 34.5 percent of their waste, but to match up with the new landfill figures Americans would only be recycling 21.4 percent.
Vaguely good news: At least we aren’t making more trash than most other cultures. This is a global problem, and one we’re all in together.