Solid Waste

“Trash” as we know it, has a technical term. Municipal Solid Waste, also referred to as MSW is what everyone in the recycling business, as well as agencies of our government uses as a word to define trash. Here are some MSW facts:

Generation: Approximately 3.8 million tons of rubber tires (or 257 million scrap tires- about 1 tire per person in the United States) were generated in 1995. Percent: Tires made up about 1.8 percent of the MSW stream in 1995. Recovery: In 1995, approximately 17.5 percent of scrap tires were recycled, excluding retreads and tires combusted for energy.
Source: U.S. EPA 1996. Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 1996 Update EPA530-R-97-015, Washington, D.C.

Paper cups consume trees, water, and chemicals, and dump them into streams and landfills- they are not recyclable. Paper cups are often wax-coated which reduces their bio-degradability further. Paper products make up over 40 percent by weight , slightly higher by volume – of this country’s municipal solid waste, by far the largest contributor. Paper Recycling and its role in Solid Waste Management. Every year nearly 900,000,000 trees are cut down to provide raw materials for American paper and pulp mills.
Source: Business Statistics, 1986

Food Waste includes leftover portions of meals and trimmings form food preparation activities in kitchens, restaurants and fast food chains, and cafeteria. Food waste is the third largest component of generated waste (after yard waste and corrugated boxes) and second largest component of discarded waste, after yard waste. The amount of food waste generated in the waste stream has increased by 1.2 million tons in the last 25 years, this is one of the lowest increases on a percentage basis of any component of the waste stream.
Generated: 14 million tons or 14.3% of MSW by weight. 106 pounds of food waste per person per year. 48 million tons of in 1995, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Composted: 570,000 tons for a 4.1% recovery rate.
Incinerated or Landfilled: 13.4 million tons or 6.7% of discarded MSW by weight.
Landfill Volume: 6.3 million cubic yards or 4.6% of landfilled MSW in 1986.
Density: Landfilled food waste has a density of 2,000 pounds per cubic yard. Food scraps and solid and liquid fats have a density of 412 pounds in a 55-gallon drum. Landfilling: Food waste can decompose into methane. However, U.S. EPA landfill regulations are designed to limit environmental degradation from methane production. Landfilling food waste is banned in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.

The Composting Process: Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic matter by microorganisms into a humus-like product. Techniques such as windows, static piles, and in-vessel systems generate energy and heat and destroy pathogens. Water and carbon dioxide dissipate into the atmosphere during this process. Windows are the most popular technique for composting food waste. It takes 3 -12 months to produce compost, depending in the process and type of food wastes being composted. Food waste can attract rodents and other vectors. Backyard compost piles that include food wastes must be tightly controlled.
Source: Waste Age May 1998