Sorry, Kim, I need to acknowledge that the original idea behind this post came from a competitor's post on recycling.

The article started noting that "Americans toss away enough aluminum in a three-month period to rebuild all of the country's commercial airplanes" and that "recycling one ton of paper saves one acre of trees." As regular readers have seen in the past, I love comparison stats like this (how many CARB P2 panels did you eat today?), so this led to me do some of my own research. I found a report by the EPA that told me, among other things:

  • On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds out of our individual waste generation of 4.43 pounds per person per day.
  • Over 33 percent of glass containers were recycled
  • About 23 percent of wood packaging, mostly wood pallets, was recovered
  • Over 13 percent of plastic containers and packaging was recycled.
Interesting, but that didn't have quite the imagery punch I wanted. I was definitely pleased to see wood packaging up at the top of recycled percentages but thought we should try to do better than just 23%!

After going through that report, I then found an interesting Washington Post article looking at the food we waste in the United States each year, which told me that about 40% of all food in the United States goes uneaten, at an estimated value of $165 billion. The article outlines where in the chain the food is lost and why and notes that "Americans today waste 50 percent more food than they did in the 1970s" and that "about 23 percent of U.S. methane emissions comes from landfill food. Composting or even technologies to capture methane could reduce that."

That was very interesting, and recommits me to using my leftovers. But I want imagery in my numbers and I found finally fun stats provided by the State of Mississippi, which included:

  • The United States produces approximately 220 million tons of garbage each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This is equivalent to burying over 82,000 football fields 6 feet deep in compacted garbage.
  • Recycling aluminum takes 95% less energy than making aluminum from raw materials, and each aluminum can recycled saves enough electricity to light a 100-watt bulb for 3.5 hours.
  • The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle is enough to light a 100-watt bulb for 4 hours.
  • Around 4.5 million tons of office paper is thrown away each year in the United States. This is enough paper to build a 12-foot-high wall of paper from Los Angeles to New York City.
  • Annually each person in the United States use paper equivalent to two pine trees.
  • Approximately 88% of the energy is saved by producing plastic from plastic as opposed to plastic from the raw materials of oil and gas.
  • Enough plastic bottles are thrown away each year in the United States to circle the earth four times.
  • The United States throws away enough iron and steel to continuously supply all the nations automakers.
  • The average household throws away two pounds of steel per week, which, if recycled, would save enough energy to keep a 60-watt bulb burning for two days.
  • Steel recycling results in 74% savings in energy, 90% savings in virgin materials, 86% reduction in air pollution, 40% reduction in water use, 76% reduction in water pollution and 97% reduction in mining wastes.
Those are some impressive stats. Rethink your next toss of a plastic bottle into the general trash pile. Next week we'll look at a few more.

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")