Americans throw out twice as much garbage as previously thought

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Americans are living in a throwaway culture far more entrenched than earlier believed.

A new study by Yale University researchers released Monday shows just how much trash we all discard on a regular basis, and it's more than twice as much as originally estimated.

The study says on average, Americans throw away 5 pounds of garbage per person per day into landfills across the country, the Associated Press reports.

That translates into 289 million tons of municipal solid waste thrown away in 2012, compared to the Environmental Protection Agency's estimate of 135 million tons for the same year. In 2013, the total rose to 294 million tons.

Why the discrepancy?

It all has to do with the way the garbage is measured, according to Yale News.

Up until 2010, the EPA relied on estimates from businesses to determine how much trash was being sent to landfills. But beginning in that year, the agency began requiring most municipal landfills to actually measure and report how much garbage was being disposed of.

The Yale researchers collected information for some 1,200 landfills around the country for 2010-2013 and calculated the more realistic numbers from there, the Associated Press explains.

A few other findings:

  • Americans aren't recycling as much as first thought, either. The EPA estimated that Americans recycled 34.5 percent of their waste in 2012, but according to the study's calculations, the recycling rate is actually 21.4 percent.
  • An estimated 12.8 percent of the waste put into landfills is construction and demolition debris.
  • We're not going to run out of landfill space anytime soon. The average landfill has about 33 years of capacity left, and more is being added every year.

The study was published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change (subscription required). The EPA partially funded the study.

How does Minnesota compare?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency collects information each year on how much garbage in Minnesota is put into landfills, recycled and composted. Each county is responsible for collecting that data.

According to the agency's latest report, Minnesotans created about 5.8 million tons of solid waste in 2013.

Of that, about 1.6 million tons (29 percent) was landfilled. Another 2.4 million tons (41 percent) was recycled, and 1.2 million tons (21 percent) was incinerated in waste-to-energy facilities.

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