What makes up 38.1% of municipal waste?

1 Answer
Jun 7, 2016

38.1% of the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) generated in the United States is comprised of paper and paperboard (think cardboard) products.


A quick disclaimer: the composition of municipal waste varies greatly from municipality to municipality (city to city) and country to country, the below information is based on data specific to the United States as a whole.

Waste products are divvied up into several categories. The type of waste in question here is: Municipal Solid Waste or MSW, for short which are all of the solid products you throw into your trashcan or recycling bin (or like my roommate just throw it on the floor). Some other types of waste are Hazardous Waste (which is further broken down into industrial [anything that comes from a manufacturing process] and household waste [things like bleach and Drain-O]), Medical Waste (anything that comes from hospitals or a clinic such as sharps [ever wonder where those red boxes on the wall at your doctor's office go? They go to a special treatment plant that specializes in medical equipment]), and Sewage Waste (you eat, you drink, you umm... yeah, that's sewage waste). Hazardous, Medical, and Sewage waste don't go to landfills, in fact if they find medical waste in a recycling or solid waste treatment plant they have to shut the entire operation down.

Nationally, paper-based products comprise, by far, a majority of the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in the United States (38.1%). The other major components of MSW are yard waste (12.1%), food waste and plastic products locked in a dead-heat (10.2%), and metal based products such as tin cans and the like (7.8%).

Below is an image showing stacks of paper at a paper recycling facility in Italy (unfortunately images of US landfills containing paper had dubious re-usage licensing).

enter image source here

**Courtesy of: H005, Wikipedia User; Public Domain
Image obtained from:

Thanks to recycling initiatives, although the generation of waste has increased dramatically, the amount of waste winding up in our landfills has been reduced dramatically.

I hope that helped!