Proverb: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. American trash – excuse the pun - is the subject of our latest iteration of TQC Trivia. Answers are provided below, along with interesting and frankly, appalling supplemental information.
1) Q: What percentage of the world’s trash do Americans generate?
2) Q: On average, how many disposable diapers are disposed of before a child is toilet trained?
3) Q: What percentage of the world’s children live in America and what percentage of the world’s toys do their parents throw away?
A) ~3% / ~20%
B) ~10% / ~30%
C) ~3% / ~40%
D) ~5% / ~25%
4) Q: How much food do Americans throw away daily?
A) 1,000 tons
B) 10,000 tons
C) 13,000 tons
D) 43,000 tons
5) Q: How many cell phones do Americans throw away daily?
A) 151 million
B) 15 thousand
C) 15 million
D) 416 thousand
6) Q: What percentage of American garbage encompasses paper and packaging materials?
7) Q: What percentage of American garbage is recycled?
8) Q: What state has the highest recycling rate in America?
B) New York
C) West Virginia
9) Q: What type of landfill is not currently recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency?
A) Municipal Solid Waste
B) Industrial Waste
C) Hazardous Waste
D) Green Waste
10) Q: How much clothing do Americas throw away annually?
A) 14 million tons
B) 4 million tons
C) 1 million tons
D) 7 million tons
1) (B) 12%. Many Americans say they care about the environment; their actions tell a different story. The United States “trashes” the most waste of any nation in the world. Indeed, even though America is home to just ~4% of the world’s population, its citizens are responsible for generating ~12% of the earth’s trash. This translates into ~268 million tons of garbage per year. (China’s 1.4 billion people equate to ~18% of the world’s population and the country generates ~240 million tons of garbage per year.) More specifically, on average Americans generate ~4.5 pounds of municipal solid waste (MSW) per person, per day. Garbage history: In 1960, Americans generated ~2.7 pounds of MSW per person, per day, and 3.7 lbs. in 1980. In many social circles it is trendy to care about the environment, in far fewer circles are actions commensurate with words.
2) (D) 9,000. Toilet training generally begins around 2 years of age. By four, most children no longer need diapers. Pampers may be gentle on a child, but they are harsh on the environment. From the time an American baby is born to when he/she is toilet or “potty” trained, ~9,000 of their soiled diapers will be disposed of. On a national level, this equates to ~18 billion diapers per year, ~49 million diapers per day, and ~570 diapers per second. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “disposable diapers account for 7 percent of nondurable household waste in landfills.” This makes sense, diapers take ~500 years to decompose. Reusable/washable diapers exist but the market for them in America is minuscule.
3) (C) ~3.1% and ~40%. Only ~3.1% of the world’s children live in the US, but Americans buy (and throw away) ~40% of the world’s toys. According to fashnerd.com, “80 percent of toys end up in a landfill, incinerators or the ocean while 90 percent are made of plastic (which takes hundreds of years to decompose) and are used for just six months on average.”
4) (D) 43,000. According to various estimates, ~10% of the world’s population (~775 million people) does not have enough to eat. In America, ~5 million people have “very low food security”, as defined by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “normal eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced at times during the year because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.” This data would be unnerving on its own but is compounded by the fact that Americans throw away 43,000 tons of food…per day! More specifically and shamefully, ~40% of food in the United States is thrown out each day. A secondary reason for this is that overly bureaucratic rules and regulations make it very difficult for restaurants and supermarkets to donate leftovers. The primary reason for this is simply because too many Americans waste too much food.
5) (D) 416,000. Discarded cell phones are designated as “e-waste.” Americans throw away 416,000 cell phones every day which equates to ~151 million phones per year. Other e-waste consists of computers, keyboards, tablets, TVs, telco equipment, and other related gear. Only 12.5% of e-waste in the US is recycled. This is particularly problematic because, according to DoSomething.org, “e-waste represents 2% of America's trash in landfills, but it equals 70% of overall toxic waste.”
6) (A) 28%. Packaging and packaging materials represent 28% of all U.S. garbage. Regrettably, food is the next largest category at ~14%, followed by yard trimmings (~13%), plastics (~13%), metals (~9%), rubber/leather & textiles (~9%), wood (~6%), glass (~4%) and other (~4%).
7) (C) 30%. According to the EPA, “75% of the American waste stream is recyclable” but we only recycle ~30%. A primary reason for this is that in America, the costs associated with not recycling are primarily borne by society, not the specific producers and end users. Conversely, Germany recycles a world-leading ~70% of all waste. In Germany, for every additional amount of packaging material a manufacturer uses, it is levied an incremental fee. As a result, in Germany packaging materials are slimmed down and efficient. Additionally, consumers are held personally responsible for properly disposing of/recycling garbage, this increases their incentive to follow the rules. These sensible regulations would certainly prod American producers and consumers to be more efficient. Unfortunately, in America practical ideas typically do not provide a pathway for politicians to get elected.
8) (D) Maine. Maine recycles ~72% of its garbage, the most of any state in the Union. New York is number six (~52%). Perhaps surprisingly, California does not crack the top 10. The Golden State recycles ~37% of its garbage. West Virginia holds the distinction of recycling the least amount (~2%) of waste in America.
9) (D) Green Space. According to dumpsters.com (yes, that website exists) three types of landfills are officially sanctioned by the EPA: Municipal Solid Waste Landfills (MSW), Industrial Waste Landfills, and Hazardous Waste Landfills. When most people think of a landfill, an MSW landfill comes to mind. Industrial waste landfills are the final resting place for the likes of concrete, metals, asphalt, and certain building materials. Hazardous waste landfills are the “most closely regulated and structured landfills. They are specifically designed to hold hazardous wastes in a way that virtually eliminates the chance of it being released into the environment.” Though not officially recognized by the EPA, green space landfills are situated in certain cities and towns to allow organic materials (food, flowers, leaves, etc.) to decompose faster than they would in an MSW landfill. The reason is that MWSs are often tightly packed and devoid of oxygen, which impedes the decomposition process.
10) (A) 14 million tons. Americans toss 14 million tons of clothing into the garbage each year, up 100% in just two decades. A primary reason for this is “fast fashion.” The primary objective of fast fashion is to quickly produce a product in a cost-efficient manner to respond to fast-changing consumer tastes in as near real-time as possible. A downside to the plethora of fashionable but cheap garments made possible by fast fashion leaders Zara (owned by the innovative Spanish firm Inditex), H&M, C&A, and others is massive degradation to the environment. After the oil and gas (O&G) industry, the fashion industry is the greatest contributor to environmental degradation. One irony of fast fashion is that many of the trend-setting consumers who represent a large component of the demand for stylish cheap clothing are the same people who claim to be stewards of the environment.
Almost all of us are guilty of many of the offenses listed above. We can and should do better, that certainly goes for me too.