40 Trillion Cans

Green Graphic & Packaging Design

recycle cans

WASTE. The sheer volume of waste in the world is staggering. Our addiction to cheap, disposable goods and the ‘buy-use-toss’ cycle is frightening. The ~$12 billion value of waste is heartbreaking. The prediction that, by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish, by weight, in the ocean is down right depressing. On that note, let’s read on to get all of the numbers behind recycling and more…

Numbers from blog post, Recycling by the Numbers, published by Grist on April 14, 2016, written by Katharine Wroth.

If there’s one thing Americans enjoy more than buying stuff, it’s not recycling that stuff when we’re done with it. We’ve put together a by-the-numbers look at this country’s expanding waste line.

4.4: Percent of the world’s population living in the U.S.
18: Percent of the world’s municipal solid waste (aka trash) generated in the U.S.
7: Seconds you might want to take to reread those two stats

4.4: Pounds of trash the average American produces each day
3.7: Pounds of trash the average American produced each day in 1980
2.7: Pounds of trash the average American produced each day in 1960
2.9: Average pounds of trash generated per person per day in Europe today
2.4: Average pounds generated per person per day in Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia
1.4: Average pounds generated per person per day in sub-Saharan Africa

254,000,000: Tons of trash tossed by Americans in 2013
34: Percent of that total that was successfully recycled or composted
13: Percent of that total that was combusted for energy
53: Percent of that total that ended up in landfills
3: Rank of landfills as sources of human-generated methane, a potent greenhouse gas (fossil fuels and agriculture top the list)

63: Percent of waste recycled in Austria, which has the world’s highest recycling rate
50: Celebrities who have signed on to a PR campaign in the U.S. to make recycling less “confusing”

1: Deep breath you should take before you read this little batch of gigantic numbers
186 million: Metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions eliminated by recycling/composting in 2013
39 million: Passenger vehicles that emit that same amount
1.1 quadrillion: BTUs of energy saved by recycling/composting in 2013
10 million: U.S. households that use that much energy in a year
1: Frisson of excitement we felt at getting to use the word “quadrillion”

120: Years since the first recycling center opened in the U.S., in New York City
35: Years since the first mandatory municipal recycling law was passed in the U.S., in Woodbury, N.J.
9,800: Municipal recycling plants in the U.S.
96: Standard size, in gallons, of recycling roll-out carts
3: U.S. cities in which human remains have been found in recycling carts in 2016

166: Gallons of gas that contain the energy saved by recycling 1 ton of paper
1,234: Gallons of gas that contain the energy saved by recycling 1 ton of aluminum
40,000,000,000: Number of aluminum cans tossed into U.S. landfills each year
95: Percent less energy it requires to make a can from recycled aluminum vs. virgin materials
90: Percent less greenhouse gas emissions that process entails
$11.4 billion: Value of recyclable containers and packaging thrown away in the U.S. each year

2050: Year by which it’s estimated there could be more plastic than fish, by weight, in the ocean
75: Percent of Americans who have access to curbside recycling
0: Excuses for not doing it.

Want to learn more about packaging waste, customer perceptions, buying psychology, design solutions and making change? Sign up for Packaging Sustainability, a 15-week, fully online course offered through MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program taught by sustainable designer and Certified Packaging Professional, Wendy Jedlicka. Class begins August 29, 2016.

Sources: EPA, Planet Aid, The Economist, Next City, Zero Waste Europe, European Environment Agency, World Bank

Numbers from blog post, Recycling by the Numbers, published by Grist on April 14, 2016, written by Katharine Wroth.

Image courtesy of Flickr CC Valerie Everett

Cindy Gilbert / Director

Cindy Gilbert is the founding director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program which is home to the fully online, multidisciplinary MA in Sustainable Design (MASD) that is the first of its kind in the world. In this role, she fosters a culture of awareness and creativity through sustainable, innovative and collaborative design. The MASD program blends theory, practice and leadership into a holistic, hands-on learning experience that culminates in student-driven thesis work that brings novel, sustainability-focused products and services to fruition.

Cindy has taught numerous courses and workshops, around the world and online, in the fields of biology, sustainability and biomimicry. She is founder of Alula Consulting which specializes in innovative online and sustainability education projects for educational institutions, non-profits, and corporations. Most recently, she served for nearly four years as the founding director of university education at the Biomimicry Institute where she developed and managed all higher education programs, including the professional certification program, annual education summits, affiliate and fellows programs, and design challenges. Cindy is based in Montana.