According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2018 the United States generated nearly 5 pounds of trash per person each day. That resulted in a total of 292.4 million tons of solid waste that year.
You might not consider where trash goes once you toss it, but the fact is that all garbage must go somewhere once the items leave your home or office. But where does garbage go after you throw it away?
What Happens to Trash?
Tens of thousands of pounds of trash are thrown away every day. Once the waste leaves your home, it is transported to a waste disposal processing facility, where the trash is sorted and categorized. Waste such as paper products, uneaten food, scrap metal, furniture and clothing take a variety of sorting paths depending on the item. Some trash is recycled or composted, while other discarded items are sent to waste-to-energy facilities, and the remainder of trash goes to landfills.
The EPA’s 2018 report showed that approximately 69 million tons of garbage were recycled that year. Recycling is a preferred option for waste diversion because this reduces loads sent to landfills and conserves resources.
Reusing solid waste by turning it into new products is the goal of recycling. Recycling centers process a variety of materials, including aluminum, plastics, glass and paper. Glass jars and bottles, for instance, can be recycled and used for the same or similar purpose. Aluminum cans are recycled and used to create more cans or even items like rain gutters and window frames. Plastic bottles are recycled into a wide variety of products, including carpeting and polyester fleece. Paper is recycled into new paper products.
Some recycling facilities request that customers separate recyclables by type. Modern facilities simplify this process using single-stream recycling in which all recyclables are mixed together during disposal and sorted during processing.
As an offshoot of recycling, composting refers to the natural process of recycling food scraps — primarily vegetables — and yard waste into decomposed, nutrient-rich matter that can be used to enrich the soil for gardening and agricultural purposes.
Composting, which is technically a decomposition process, is something that organically happens in nature. For example, leaves that fall in the forest eventually decompose and are absorbed into the earth. During commercial composting, this process is sped up through human intervention by providing food scraps and landscape clippings among other things to create the ideal heat and moisture conditions in which to decompose quickly.
There are several different types of composting operations, including what is considered small-scale composting, such as a home composting bin, and large-scale composting, such as at a composting facility.
The EPA’s 2018 survey found that 25 million tons of municipal solid waste were composted that year. That included approximately 2.16 million tons of food waste and 22.3 million tons of yard trimmings.
The EPA reports that in 2018, nearly 35 million tons of municipal solid waste were combusted to create energy. The most common type of combustion involves burning trash in incinerators. This process uses large industrial furnaces to burn solid waste. The method reduces the original volume of waste by 95 percent while generating surplus heat. During the combustion process, gas byproducts are captured and used to generate heat or electricity.
Another form of waste-to-energy is via anaerobic digestion. This is a biological process that uses microorganisms to convert organic materials into energy and fertilizer.
Trash that can’t be recycled, composted or turned into energy is sent to landfills. The EPA study found that 146 million tons of waste, equaling 50 percent of the total solid waste for the year, went to landfills in 2018.
Landfills are closely monitored, out-of-the-way locations designed to safely contain and store solid waste. There are several types of landfills in North America. These include municipal solid waste landfills where most of the waste is deposited. Additionally, there are landfills dedicated to accommodating the building industry with waste created during construction, such as concrete. There are also landfills for hazardous waste.
Understanding Where Trash Goes to Support Landfill Diversion
Now that you know where trash goes after you toss it, you can be more aware of what you dispose of. Implementing waste disposal strategies at home can go a long way towards landfill diversion. You can get started today and even get your community involved.
Contact Texas Disposal Systems for your waste disposal needs or visit our blog to learn more about waste disposal and resource management.