C&D Waste looks like a house, but after some giant’s hairy butt sat on it. Anywhere from 200 to 800 million tons of construction and demolition waste is produced in the US every year. We’re talking wood, concrete, metal, anything that goes into constructing a building. Most of it gets landfilled or burned.
E-Waste is what your old cell phone, old computer, broken tablet, outdated laptop, clunky television, ancient desktop, and robotic, voice activated wrist watch usually become. It is the fastest growing portion of MSW, increasing by nearly 5% every year. 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are discarded every year. Often these items are still useful, and if not in working order, contain pounds of valuable metals.
Glass has been around for thousands of years and is pretty much inert as a substance. Sounds like it should be simple to deal with, but in reality, glass is an enigma. Some people say glass is one of the most easily recycled materials, while others say it’s hardly worth recycling at all, and a problem, too. More than 12 million tons of glass are generated in the US each year. Of this, about 4 million tons are recycled in some form.
Hazardous Waste a relatively small portion of the waste stream, but something that often makes the news. The US generated 35,285,000 tons of hazardous waste in 2009. Hazardous waste is governed by Subtitle-C of the RCRA. The US EPA has several lists of what are determined to be hazardous wastes, but in addition, if a waste meets specified criteria for hazardous waste but is not on the list, it may still be considered hazardous.
Metal is still worth something even when you throw it away, which is why so many people will pay you for your scrap. Almost 70 million tons of metal were recycled in the US in 2011. 60% of the steel produced in the US is from scrap-fed electric arc furnaces. If you throw metal out, you’re just plain stupid. As much as 8% (by weight) of waste that goes to landfills in the US is metal.
Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is produced in grand quantities by the US, with each of us generating more than 4.5 pounds per day. Annually, 250 million tons of MSW are produced. What we do with it is mostly bury it, and some of it we burn, and some we try to turn back into something useful, although how well that works is up for debate.
Packaging is composed of many of the other materials listed here, but it gets its own category because it has become its own animal. Packaging is often a composite of paper, plastic, metal, and glass. The EPA estimates packaging accounts for 30% of the waste stream. Packaging accounts for 50% of all paper, 90% of all glass, and 11% of all aluminum produced in the US.
Paper is a massive component of the waste stream, both by volume and by weight. The US produces 71.6 million tons of paper waste per year. 45% of paper products are recycled in the US. Paper appears to be relatively benign, since it is organic, decomposes somewhat quickly, and isn’t super toxic, however, the trend towards single stream recycling has made it more difficult to recycle.
Plastic is like the genie in the bottle. It grants your wildest wishes, but once you let it out of the bottle, you’re fooling yourself if you think you can control it. 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2011, and only 8% was recovered for recycling.