See How Much Waste the US Produces Each Year — and What You Can Do About It

What weighs as much as a cow and is as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa? The amount of trash you produce every year.

The average American is responsible for 4.4 pounds of trash a day, or 1,606 pounds a year. The average family of four in the US produces 6,351 pounds of trash each year.

Americans are responsible for sending an astonishing amount of waste to landfills — and it’s only gotten worse over the last 100 years. How has our extravagant garbage affected our country, and what can we do to make it better?

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According to research from the team at, the number of landfills has dramatically increased over the last century to accommodate all the extra trash being produced. Landfills were once “environmental disasters” sending methane into the air and contaminated liquid into the ground, but the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act created regulations for landfills.

We’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to be done.

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Where can we find the most landfills nationwide? The East Coast and Midwest are home to most of the nation’s landfills, with most states containing several large sites and a “dump deluge” in Tennessee and the Carolinas. Landfills pungently punctuate the West Coast, from California to Washington.

Even though the US as a whole is responsible for a surplus of waste, some states do a better job containing it than others. Nevada leads for the highest tons of waste per state, with a staggering 38.4 tons of waste per resident. In contrast, Idaho only has 4.1 tons of waste per resident. What accounts for the difference?

One possible factor is trash transport — many states send their waste elsewhere. Researchers discovered that “the trash trade is a $4 billion industry, and many state landfills are only too happy to take garbage from other states.” Ohio is just one state that benefits from the trash transport industry, receiving millions of tons of trash from other states per year.

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There is some encouraging news: Recycling is on the rise. Encouragingly enough, analysts found that more Americans are hopping on the recycling bandwagon. Last year, 87.2 million tons of waste could have ended up in a landfill but didn’t. Yes, recycling is slowly increasing — but so is trash generation. It may not seem like much, but there are small steps you can take to help reduce our impact on the nation’s environment.

How to Reduce Your Impact on the Environment, Courtesy of

  • Bring reusable bags when you go shopping, and choose reusable containers for packing meals.
  • Buy in bulk whenever possible. Beware of double packing — or individually wrapped items that are repackaged and sold as bulk.
  • Compost your food scraps and yard waste whenever possible.
  • Cut back on junk mail — you receive more than 30 pounds of it per year.