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How Much Garbage does a Person Create in One Year?

Diana Bocco
Updated May 16, 2024
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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American produces about 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of garbage a day, or a total of 29 pounds (13 kg) per week and 1,600 pounds (726 kg) a year. This only takes into consideration the average household member and does not count industrial waste or commercial trash. If this sounds like a staggering number, you would be surprised to know that Americans are not the number one producers of garbage in the world. In Mexico, the average household produces 30 percent more garbage than in America.

While the numbers may be difficult to grasp, consider this: with the garbage produced in America alone, you could form a line of filled-up garbage trucks and reach the moon. Or cover the state of Texas two and a half times. Or bury more than 990,000 football fields under six-foot high (1.8 meter high) piles of waste. According to WM Recycle America, LLC, Americans alone throw away enough aluminum to duplicate the full commercial air fleet of the US.

So how is it that so much garbage is produced? Most of the stuff that fills the landfills is packaging, especially in the form of fast-food containers, but office paper, disposable diapers, Styrofoam inserts, and plain plastic bags also contribute an important percentage to the total waste production of the country. In fact, paper waste makes for about 35 percent of the total material filling up landfills. Considering that most of this paper could be recycled, much of the waste problem is easily avoidable.

Recycling is a big part of the solution to the garbage problem. Newspapers, aluminum containers, and certain plastics can be recycled to reuse in a different form, thus saving space in landfills. Another way to help with the waste problem is to reduce the amount of garbage you produce. This can be done by buying less, buying things in smaller packaging, and simply reusing what you have. You can also buy used, which means you do not produce additional waste because you do not have to discard any more packaging. Donating things you do not longer want also helps. Rather than going to landfills, second-hand clothing, electronic equipment, and even furniture can be passed on to others to extend their usable life.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.
Discussion Comments
By anon1002351 — On Nov 04, 2019

All super good posts. I feel we all need to be conscious of our surroundings and do the obvious always. If it works, use it. If you are done with it give it away, someone day could be made. Peace all, hemp is a renewable, smart resource that has many, many uses.

By anon1001284 — On Apr 05, 2019

One way of contributing is by not having kids. We are already grossly overpopulated. Fewer humans, less pollution.

By anon968236 — On Sep 02, 2014

I am learning about this and it has changed my thoughts on throwing away my rubbish completely.

By anon951841 — On May 18, 2014

If you pay attention to it, then the world would be like that movie "Wall-e", so the only ones killing the planet are those who are spending a whole lot of time paying attention to it. Good thing someone knows better. Otherwise, some of those leaflets would probably be pretty convincing.

By anon951128 — On May 14, 2014

People do not think that we are all killing the earth slowly.

By anon333220 — On May 03, 2013

I'm on the environmental team at my school, and this stuff always makes me mad because people can recycle. They just choose not to.

By anon285371 — On Aug 15, 2012

Great article. I challenge anyone to go a whole year without buying anything that's newly manufactured. Not only is it possible, but profitable as well.

I'm currently working on a project promoting the thrift store industry as a method of wast reduction. I recycle at least 75 percent of my household waste. Buying something new requires the extraction and destruction of a lot of resources, not to mention the destruction of our environment in extracting, hauling and manufacturing, packaging and shipping the item. You can do it!

By anon248703 — On Feb 18, 2012

To anon76193, Post 26 who says "America is a continent" Wrong! North America is a continent. South America is a continent. America is the USA.

By anon179651 — On May 24, 2011

I find some of the comments/suggestions on here kind of funny. I read to use as little as possible. Am I supposed to starve now? All the food that I buy is packaged in some way or another. I as a consumer cannot do anything. In fact, I refuse to do anything. It is time for the food industry to step up and do something about it instead.

By anon173047 — On May 05, 2011

We should recycle more instead of throwing it away, or if we see trash on the ground we should pick it up.

By anon163059 — On Mar 26, 2011

Wow these statistics are amazing! I have just completed a Geography assignment on household waste management and my house produces 482kg every year which is less than one American! that is crazy!

By anon154426 — On Feb 20, 2011

I'm doing a research paper on this garbage issue and some of the information in this article is different from all the other sources i have been reviewing. for one thing America is supposed to be the number one consumer in waste, so how is it Mexico?

By anon153070 — On Feb 16, 2011

Do you know how much space the world's landfills currently use? and how much waste is added daily? Do you have stats for total waste (commercial, industrial included?) produced by an average westerner per year? Do you know how much industrial waste is produced for one iPod? Or a laptop? thanks for the info!

By anon152236 — On Feb 13, 2011

how much of it can be recycled? how much of it is recycled?

By anon151098 — On Feb 09, 2011

How much paper does the average American use?

By anon142195 — On Jan 12, 2011

how many plastic bottles does the average person waste each year? how many times can that amount wrap around the earth? please reply!

By anon138811 — On Jan 02, 2011

How much recyclable excess packaging that is used goes to the landfill?

By anon131643 — On Dec 03, 2010

any idea how much food people waste in the world in a year?

By anon123626 — On Nov 02, 2010

I live in Australia, and in 1995 309kg was the amount one person would create. Since then packaging has increased highly so that number would be so much higher than it use to be. So Right now we need to start to recycling, and make a change for the better.

By anon121500 — On Oct 24, 2010

Despite clay caps, water and air do get into the landfills and decay does happen, if not at the rates it would occur at on the surface. In fact, decay and the resultant methane (and other gases in small amounts)that are produced are the reasons that landfills have "flares", pipes sunk into the clay caps that burn off methane.

From what I understand, post early 90's landfills have to be sited on "geologically sound" areas, approved of by scores of hydrogeologists and engineers: meaning that even as rain percolates through them (slowly), the leachate (water plus whatever nastiness it's picked up on it's way through the landfill) won't leach into a surrounding aquifer.

Most new landfills have leachate tanks that collect leachate from around the landfill, and the leachate is required by law to be tested, with results sent to the EPA, to track the water quality and decay cycle within the landfill. On older landfill sites, where there might be hydrological pathways from the landfill to surrounding aquifer layers, unrelieved methane pressure can force gases and contaminated water outwards.

This is why, on all landfills, but especially the older ones, it's so important that the EPA regulations enforce the regular testing of water through rings of monitoring wells around the landfill. If anything amiss is found (and there are HUGE regulations on what that means), the landfill owners are required to fix it, immediately. Often this means putting in more methane flares to release the gas pressures (again, from decomposition).

Landfills aren't pleasant; they are the dark side of a consumption culture made manifest. However, there haven't been miraculous "advances in science" that have allowed another way for our profligate waste to be dealt with. They are far better, from what I've read, than trash burning power plants. Vilifying landfills isn't useful; no cleverer alternatives, yet. Changing the culture of consumption and waste is.

Oakland, California has a sophisticated way of dealing with part of its waste stream; they have recycling facilities, but also a "re-use it" space near the dump where people can bring unwanted things and others can buy them or use them for raw materials, kind of, from what I've heard, like a last chance thrift store. There is also an artist's residency associated with it, to help people become more aware of their waste streams and the lost opportunities of the things they are throwing away. An excellent start for new ways of thinking about trash.

By anon116532 — On Oct 06, 2010

The highest point in Hamilton County, Ohio (near Cincinnati) is "Mount Rumpke." It is actually a mountain of trash at the Rumpke sanitary landfill towering 1045 ft. above sea level.

By anon101667 — On Aug 04, 2010

You stated, "In Mexico, the average household produces 30 percent more garbage than in America."

Where did you get that info? Mexican households do not have the same average income as those in the USA, therefore they don't have the same consumer capacity I wonder how they could produce 30 percent more garbage on a lesser income, or your information is biased.

By anon85472 — On May 20, 2010

How much water does the average human waste per year?

By anon84699 — On May 17, 2010

I have recently learned that Tri-County School Corporation is now making a rain garden that proceeds as their recycling project. I do think that they deserve some acknowledgment.

By anon84689 — On May 17, 2010

What is the name of the largest landfill in the world? i need to know so I will be able to present a "garbage usage" project in school. I am presenting on the horrible wrongs of landfills and how much we put into landfills each day, month, and year! Please help!

By anon83734 — On May 12, 2010

We need to know these facts now. If we can help the world now then we won't die! Please help the world now!

By anon83165 — On May 09, 2010

This is stupid, before the world gets even worse we'll all be dead so what of it?

By anon80232 — On Apr 26, 2010

I want you to recycle.

By anon76193 — On Apr 09, 2010

Who are you referring to a America? because america is the continent, not only USA. So, then we produce more garbage as an American continent.

By anon69796 — On Mar 10, 2010

If you understand the mechanics of a landfill then you will know that anything that goes into on is compacted and covered with layers of clay and other materials that basically mummify the remains. This means that without air and water the paper and compost actually can not degrade into more basic components.

Having said that, all of these comments about not worrying about throwing away paper are completely preposterous as they will not break down even though they can if given a chance.

Recycling and reusing and avoiding packaging wherever possible and buying products made from reusable resources is the best way to combat our current problems today.

If you can reduce your garbage production by a nominal amount, like 15 percent, which everyone can do, think of the change that makes over millions of people, and think of the impact that will have on the environment.

Use your heads and do your part by advocating these precious ideas to those closest to you and have them pay it forward by telling those close to them. That is how the tipping point is achieved. The Earth is counting on you. Good luck and God bless.

By anon67896 — On Feb 27, 2010

There are actual modern day patriots who care enough about us 'filthy' americans that they are involved in 'zero' waste systems! Where are you? Please contact me!

By anon62918 — On Jan 29, 2010

Save the world! it's the only one we have.

By anon61275 — On Jan 19, 2010

Does someone have a line graph of the total produced waste worldwide since 1950? (the year isn't so necessary) i need it for a presentation.

By anon56015 — On Dec 11, 2009

In reference to this: "Any idea how much waste is created from fast food containers?"

- anon9694

Editor's reply: i couldn't find a specific number of how much, but experts estimate that fast food litter makes up about 20% of all trash, and trash from snack items such as chip bags, soda cans, etc. make up an additional 20%. it varies from city to city, and state to state, but there are few laws and ordinances in place to encourage fast food establishments to recycle wrappers and/or use less packaging for their food."

I work for a recycling company and we try not to take fast food garbage as recycling because it is considered "Wet or Soiled Waste" because the grease is said to contaminate the recycling. What this means is that it is just more expensive. I'm not sure exactly why.

By anon35537 — On Jul 06, 2009

We should help out the world!

By anon29456 — On Apr 02, 2009

How much does rubbish cost in Germany to throw away?

How can one reduce the volume of ones rubbish and reduce the costs?

How much rubbish does the average person produce per week?

By anon23888 — On Jan 04, 2009

Before you recycle you should reduce the amount you use the reuse anything you can (be creative!) and then when you get to recycling you shouldn't have much to recycle.

By koolaid123 — On Nov 18, 2008

In response to anon20243: "So, why throw away perfectly good paper that can be made into new paper or products? Why throw it in a landfill where it will take up space and go to no good use."

Paper sitting in a landfill is not "no good use." This paper is helping offset exactly what oil drills are doing. Oil drills take hydrocarbons from the ground and we burn them to make CO2. These trees which we make paper from take in this CO2, and convert it to solid matter. When we bury this carbon underground, we are actually putting the carbon back where it belongs. If we recycle all of our paper, no new trees can be cut down, no new trees can be planted, and we all know that a new tree takes in way more CO2 than an old tree. So shoving these trees in the ground is helping our problem with global warming!

By anon21562 — On Nov 18, 2008

While we are talking about paper not being biodegradable, what about the benefits of it sitting in a landfill? If this paper sits in a landfill, it will sit there, storing Carbon, while we can grow more trees to absorb more carbon, cut the trees and put more paper in these landfills, helping with global warming, which I know you people are so fond about. If we grow tons and tons of trees, and stick them in the ground to store carbon forever, then we are helping make up for the carbon dioxide you put into the air every day, simply by being alive. If you care about this planet so much, just think about how much less carbon dioxide there would be if there were a few less people alive...

By anon21546 — On Nov 17, 2008

In response to anon19571: "Paper waste is biodegradable, I wouldn't worry about our landfills becoming full with paper. Not to mention paper is 100% renewable."

For something to be able to biodegrade, it needs to be in the right conditions. Sure paper is biodegradable, but surrounded by junk there is no way it's going to be able to do so in landfill conditions. One might say carrots and hotdogs are biodegradable, but in one landfill, these items were found in perfect condition...over 40 years old. Doesn't sound like it's biodegrading to me. So please, just recycle it.

By anon20243 — On Oct 27, 2008

In response to anon19571: "Paper waste is biodegradable, I wouldn't worry about our landfills becoming full with paper. Not to mention paper is 100% renewable."

So, why throw away perfectly good paper that can be made into new paper or products? Why throw it in a landfill where it will take up space and go to no good use. Sure, paper is renewable, but do you know how long it takes for a tree to grow before it can be cut down to make paper? Sure, let's just throw everything away that is biodegradable...

By anon19571 — On Oct 15, 2008

Paper waste is biodegradable, I wouldn't worry about our landfills becoming full with paper. Not to mention paper is 100% renewable.

By anon15581 — On Jul 15, 2008

Disputing the text, there are many arguments that state source reduction as the best way to ameliorate our garbage problem. Remember the 3Rs of resources and recycling?

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

They are placed in this order for a reason:

-Reduce is first because if we reduce how much we use or buy then less is put into the waste stream.

-Reuse is second because if we reuse what we buy many times then it lowers the amount we have to buy.

-Recycle takes the most energy and isn't terribly efficient and is reactive rather than proactive. It is a very good thing to have, but of the three Rs there is a reason why it is last.

All of these can save people money especially Reducing and Reusing!

By moomydo — On Jul 15, 2008

In the second paragraph, what time frame do "the garbage produced in America alone" comparisons refer to? One year for the whole nation?

By anon9754 — On Mar 12, 2008

those reuseable bags sound like a good idea. and instead of grabbing the plastic bags, how bout' the paper ones? they can still be reused....

By anon9694 — On Mar 11, 2008

Any idea how much waste is created from fast food containers?

By olittlewood — On Jan 22, 2008

you'd be surprised how much you can recycle on your own. i've always recycled the obvious, like newspaper, cans and plastic, but other stuff like aluminum foil, the rolls from your toilet paper and paper towels can also be thrown in with your cardboard and paper. you'd be surprised how much of those you accumulate even in one week! i also purchase a big pack of cheap, white washcloths to have in the kitchen to wipe faces and clean messes, instead of reaching for a paper towel. it's easy to just grab a paper towel to quickly wipe up a little spill, or to dry your hands. i still have a roll of paper towels in the kitchen, but try really hard to use a washcloth instead. for this year my goal is to bring home fewer of those walmart and target bags...i have a huge bag full of them. i try to recycle them in waste baskets, to wrap dirty diapers in, etc., but i still find that i accumulate a TON of them. you can drop them off at walmart to recycle, but i am going to buy some grocery bags that i can reuse and wash. also, i'm going to try to replace my paper napkins with cloth napkins. i know that this requires more washing, so i guess i should start buying some environmentally friendly laundry detergent! and wash it on cold! you could go on and on, but i think that for the most part, it's all easy stuff to implement.

By anon7228 — On Jan 21, 2008

how much waste can be recycled????

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
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