If you’re an average American, you’ll generate around 90,000 pounds of various types of trash over the course of your lifetime. But how much do you actually know about all the stuff you’re throwing away? Read on for 14 remarkable facts about garbage that might surprise you.
- Coordinated garbage disposal efforts have been around for more than 5,000 years.
In 3000 B.C.E., the first landfill was developed at Knossos on the Greek island of Crete. Large holes were dug, refuse was dumped in, and the holes were layered with dirt and garbage. Approximately a thousand years later, China was developing composting and recycling methods, particularly for precious resources like bronze.
By 500 B.C.E., the garbage industry was being legislated and regulated. Athens, for example, passed a law prohibiting trash from being dumped within one mile of the city.
- The first records of official garbage men date from Britain during the Dark Ages, more than 600 years ago.
Calling themselves “rakers,” these garbage professionals would move through cities and communities on a regular basis, raking up trash from the street into a cart. In 1407 C. E., a British law was passed stipulating that garbage must be stored indoors until rakers came to remove it.
- Today, the amount of waste Americans generate every day is enough to fill 63,000 garbage trucks.
If a year’s worth of these trucks was lined up end-to-end, they would reach halfway to the moon. Every year, the amount of solid waste produced in the US weighs as much as 247,000 space shuttles or 2.3 million Boeing 747 jumbo jets.
- If you’re an average American, chances are that the bag of trash in your kitchen right now contains enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for an entire day.
- Americans throw away large amounts of surprising things.
For example, every year, we get rid of 5.7 million tons of carpet; 38,000 miles of ribbon, which is enough to tie a giant bow around the planet; 4 million pairs of glasses; 350 million pairs of shoes; close to 16 million tons of reading material, including books; and 20,000 tons of used tennis balls.
- Most people are aware that their tax dollars are at work when it comes to municipal trash collection, but few people realize just how many dollars.
For most communities, spending on waste management is higher than spending on parks, fire protection, or schoolbooks and libraries.
- Each American uses an average of 500 plastic bags each year, and less than 1 percent of those bags are recycled.
This is a shame when you consider that, in California, for example, recycling 1 ton of plastic bags costs $4,000, but the state spends $25 million to send plastic bags to landfills. A further $8.5 million goes towards cleaning plastic bags off the streets. It’s also not surprising that plastic bags are the second-most-common type of trash found on beaches.
- In spite of the digital revolution, junk mail remains a significant source of household trash.
About 4.5 million tons of junk mail are sent to Americans every year; approximately 44 percent of this junk mail is never even opened. The average American receives about 560 pieces of junk mail annually. Furthermore, the energy consumed by the creation and distribution of just one day’s worth of junk mail in the US could provide enough heat for 250,000 homes.
- In spite of the fact that the US is home to only 4 percent of the world’s children, Americans account for 40 percent of the world’s toys that are thrown away.
- Disposable plates and cutlery may be convenient, but they create a lot of trash.
The number of disposable cups, forks, and spoons that Americans throw away every year could circle the equator 3,000 times. The average American office worker alone uses 500 disposal cups per year; that’s roughly two for every workday.
- The aviation industry has been criticized for its negative environmental impact, but while much of that criticism focuses on greenhouse gas emissions, trash is also a big problem.
More than 425,000 tons of passenger waste is generated every year, and less than 20 percent of that is recycled.
- The bottled water industry has been called the “grandfather of wasteful industries” by journalist Edward Humes in his book, Garbology.
Every minute, 700 water bottles are tossed by Americans. The 13 percent of plastic water bottles that aren’t recycled is equivalent to 1.3 million tons of bottles ending up in landfills. Each bottle takes more than 1,000 years to biodegrade.
- The holiday season tends to be particularly wasteful.
Most people are aware of that, but did you know that an extra 1 million tons of garbage is generated every week during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? The estimated amount of holiday cards alone could fill a football field to the level of 10 stories high.
- Packaging material is a huge source of waste.
This means that it makes up about one-third of the contents of the average dump and 65 percent of household trash.