August 27 , 2023 /


As I made a trip to throw away an empty sardine can, I thought, how many trips a day do I make to this flip the lid trash receptacle in the kitchen? It is one that holds a 30 gallon, black, plastic bag with blue ties that close it up. We have several other baskets of waste in our house. Our trash gets picked up in Rancho Los Labradores 4 times a week, M, W, Th and Sat.  I watch the small, open, pick-up truck that comes by loaded, the driver gets out and throws ours on top.  He then takes all of that to a central collection point in our community where a larger truck comes every so often and hauls a big load out.


This is a small example of what goes on everywhere one way or another.  I know a few people who sort religiously and recycle plastic, paper, carboard and aluminum, put wet garbage into a compost bin and are committed to reducing, reusing and recycling.  I am a fan of adaptive reuse of buildings and clothes and other material things but I did not convert and become committed to reduce the amount of trash going into landfills.  It’s convenient if you have curb pickup for recycling.  We do not.


Recycling of paper, plastics, aluminum and other materials has an interesting history. In 1031 A.D., the first evidence of recycling was recorded. The Japanese shredded their old documents and records, and remade them into new sheets of paper; selling them through mom-and-pop stores around the country.


Here are some excerpts from the following article and there are additional sources for those interested:


5 important facts about recycling

  • Dirty plastics cannot be recycled. …
  • Enough plastic bottles are discarded over a year to go around the planet 4 times. …
  • More than 90% of our ocean plastics come from just 10 rivers. …
  • The largest dumping site of plastics is not a landfill, it is the Pacific Ocean!

Recycling saves energy and water, lowers pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, improves air and water quality, preserves landfill space and conserves natural resources. It doesn’t make sense to use paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, steel, and petroleum products once and then throw them away!


The U.S. produces 268 million tons of waste — 140 million going into landfills — each year, with the average American tossing 4.5 pounds of trash per day. I don’t know what the “average” American is, but if there are 330 million of us and you do the math, that totals up to 1 billion, 485 million.  Someone’s calculations are off and they could be mine or it could be the EPA. Or it could be the “average” American doesn’t include young children but they contribute trash!


If the “average” American consumer produces just under five pounds of trash each day, a family creates about 18 pounds. Multiplying those numbers by 365 days for the year, it all adds up to:

  • 1,642 pounds per person annually.
  • 6,570 pounds per family annually.

These numbers are considerably higher than the averages for residents in other nations. For example, in Europe, the average amount of trash generated by one person in a year weighs in at just over 1,000 lbs. I don’t weigh our trash so I don’t know if we are average, above or below.

Every year, U.S. landfills are filled with 140 million tons of waste including:

  • 30.63 million tons of food.
  • 26.82 million tons of plastic.
  • 18.35 million tons of paper and paperboard.
  • 13.8 million tons of metals.
  • 12.14 million tons of wood.
  • 11.15 million tons of textile.
  • 8.65 million tons of yard trimmings.
  • 6.87 million tons of glass.
  • 4.95 million tons of rubber & leather.
  • 3.25 million tons of misc. inorganic waste.
  • 2.98 million tons of other assorted materials.


While plenty can’t be reused, nearly a third of what we toss can be recycled, particularly if your local government offers curbside recycling. However, sometimes single-stream recycling can cause more harm than good. Confusion about what materials are recyclable and improper cleaning before putting an item in your bin can lead to contamination. When this happens, usually the entire load of recyclable materials ends up in a landfill.   The numbers, whatever they are, reveal the habits and behaviors of a mindless and wasteful society.

I remember being shocked to learn that almost 40 percent of the entire US food supply gets thrown out. Most discarded food ends up in landfills. In fact, food is the single largest component taking up space inside US landfills, making up 22 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW). All told, the amount of food wasted in America has an approximate value of nearly $218 billion – the equivalent of 130 billion meals.  For more information and details, here’s a link:


I have another, different story about a different time in the U.S. during the Great Depression and the decades following.  I watched my grandparents and parents use and reuse and then deal with their small amounts of trash.  That was then and this is now and, while there may be lessons to be learned, there is no going back, but there is a better way forward.


There are many definitions and different kinds of trash.  There’s also the wastebasket down there in the right-hand corner of my computer screen where this document may end up.   At least it’s not on paper!

What are your thoughts on trash?  How do you deal with yours?  Any suggestions for wide-spread improvements?

PS  As I was about to press Publish, I notice another choice to the left, Move to Trash!




Comments (2)

  1. We have become better at recycling since moving to our new home. Curb side pickup twice a month makes it easy.

    We have never been a family that throws stuff out…reuse, reuse, reuse in different forms til there’s not much left to throw out!

    Amazing number on the amounts of trash!

    Thanks, Gary! Kathleen

    1. I’ve told this story numerous times, here it is again. One of my grandfathers (I had the pleasure and benefit of knowing both of them for many years) had a shoebox in his garage labeled, “pieces of string too short to save” and inside were all these short pieces of string. Once the box was full, he tied all the pieces together, made a small ball of string which he then used to wrap packages. My grandparents and parents were big savers, users and resusers and I have a blog related to that which is something about the new imperative economy. I’ll look it up later and send it as you’ll get a kick out of it.

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