How Much Garbage Per Capita is Eliminated Due to Recycling?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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How much garbage, per capita, is eliminated through recycling is somewhat hard to quantify. While it is possible to consider the tonnage of household waste, look at the percentage recycled, divide it by the number of people in the country and come up with a number, it may not be extremely accurate. For many countries, recycling statistics are not even available.

There are three also three major components to any recycling program, as indicated by the phrase, "Reduce, reuse, recycle." While, from a purely technical standpoint, the recycling is only the last portion of the plan, the other two factors are considered part of a comprehensive recycling program. As such, it is truly impossible to say how much consumers have reduced, if at all, or how much they reuse after the initial use has been completed.

To realize how much garbage is eliminated through recycling, it is first necessary to consider how much waste, by weight, is produced, then figure out how much is recycled. After those two things are done, a simple matter of division will give a rough estimate. For the purposes of this exercise, the United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom will be considered.


The United States produces 220 million tons of municipal waste, of which approximately 32 percent is recycled either by traditional recycling means or by organic composting, according to the United Nations. That means approximately 66 million tons of garbage is recycled every year. Given a U.S. population of approximately 300 million, that equals .22 tons, per capita, being recycled.

Canada produces 13.38 million tons of municipal garbage each year, of which approximately 39 percent is recycled via the same means as the United States. Therefore, 5.21 tons of waste is recycled every year. The population of Canada is approximately 33 million. That means that approximately .15 tons of garbage is recycled per capita.

In Mexico, approximately 36 million tons of waste are produced every year. Only 3.3 percent of that waste is recycled, which equals 1.2 million tons. With the population in Mexico standing at approximately 110 million, that means approximately .01 tons of waste is recycled.

The United Kingdom produces approximately 35 million tons of waste each year. Of that, nearly 27 percent of waste finds its way to be recycled, which equals approximately 9.5 million tons. The United Kingdom has a population of approximately 61 million, meaning that, per capita, .16 tons of garbage is recycled.


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Post 1
Recycling can be a touchy subject in localities around the nation. While few will argue against the notion that increasing recycling efforts is a good idea, there is plenty of disagreement on how to achieve that goal.

Some cities have taken on the strategy of forcing people to recycle by giving them bins and limiting the number of trash bags they can throw away every week. Forcing people to recycle along those lines can (and, perhaps, should) be viewed as overreaching on the part of local government.

It might be a more effective method to simply offer people a discount on the cost of trash collection if they implement their own recycling strategies. It's rather like hybrid cars -- no one was overly interested in saving on gas until there was an economic advantage to doing so. Once gas prices got very high and hybrid cars became price competitive with more conventional vehicles, demand for fuel sipping cars spiked considerably.

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