Excessive waste generation

Until we can achieve truly sustainable closed-loop systems, our activities will continue to generate large amounts of municipal solid waste, industrial solid waste, and hazardous waste. Excessive waste generation results from several causes and exerts various impacts on human health and ecological systems. Fortunately, there are many steps we can take to reduce our generation of waste. The following answers for the Causes and Consequences features are examples and are not intended to represent a comprehensive list. In addition, the sequence of items is not meant to connote relative importance.

Sort the examples below into the appropriate bin.


Which of the following categories comprises the greatest proportion, by weight, of solid waste before recycling in the United States today?



  1. Paper The largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste
  2. yard debris The second-largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste
  3. food scraps Often the primary contributor to solid waste in developing nations
  4. Plastic Waste that has taken up a substantially greater share of the waste stream since 1970
  5. E-waste Most rapidly growing new component of hazardous municipal waste
  6. heavy metals Include mercury, lead, cadmium, and chromium


What is the term that refers to the reduction of the amount of waste entering the waste stream?

source reduction


__________ is the process of recovering organic waste through decomposition.



What are the goals of waste management?

disposing of waste safely as well as effectively, minimizing the amount of waste generated, and increasing recovery


As of 2008, the average American generates about ________ pounds of solid waste per day.



This graph compares changes in the total generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the United States to changes in the per capita generation of waste.

Can you interpret the graph to answer these questions?

What does the left y-axis represent?

total generation of municipal solid waste, in metric tons per year


What does the red line on the graph represent?

the average amount of solid waste generated by each person in the United States per year


In 2000, how much solid waste did the average person in the United States produce?

In 2000, how much solid waste did the average person in the United States produce?

770 kilograms per year


Which of the following statements is the best description of the per capita generation of solid waste between 1960 and 2010?

Between 1960 and 2000, per capita generation increased. After 2000, per capita generation declined.


Which of the following actions would not reduce the per capita generation of solid waste?

Which of the following actions would not reduce the per capita generation of solid waste?

installation of waste-to-energy incinerators


Which of the following statements is the best description of the total MSW generation between 1960 and 2010?

Between 1960 and 2005, total MSW generation increased at a steady rate. After 2005, total generation leveled off.


Between 2000 and 2010, per capita generation of solid waste declined, but the total amount of MSW remained relatively constant. What caused the difference in these two trends?

The total population was increasing.


How is the generation of municipal solid waste likely to change in the next 20 years?

The answer cannot be determined from the graph.


What is the difference between the amount of paper within the waste stream before and after recycling/composting?



Which of the following represents the largest waste disposal practice in the United States?



How can consumers decrease waste generation?

by choosing minimally packaged goods


The conversion of organic waste to mulch or humus usable for enriching soil by encouraging natural biological processes of decomposition in a controlled manner is called __________.



What is the largest component of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream?

paper and paper products


Which of the following is an example of a product found in a “throwaway society,” such as the United States?

paper napkins


As recycling and composting efforts have grown, what has occurred with the annual amount of waste sent to landfills?

it has proportionally decreased


Why does the average U.S. citizen create more waste today than 50 years ago?

higher rates of consumption


The average American produces how much trash per day?

4.4 pounds


What prevents the contamination of groundwater in landfills?

locating them below the water table


Which of the following conditions results from the operation and subsequent use of old landfills built before 1976?

Leachate from old landfills can contaminate groundwater.


What is one problem associated with the incineration of solid waste?

hazardous chemicals are often created and released into the atmosphere


How can solid waste incineration be of benefit?

the heat from waste combustion can be used to generate energy


How is compost used?

It is used to enrich soil.


Which of the following actions is required for the recycling loop to be successful?

Consumers and businesses must purchase products made from recycled materials.


From the 1960s to the present, the trend has been that ________ over time.

more overall waste was produced


The year ________ demonstrated the greatest volume of recycling.



Volume of waste recovered by composting was insignificant until ________.

the late 1980s


What sort of waste is predominantly generated by U.S. industrial facilities?



Which type of analysis is performed by industrial ecologists when they examine a product from its beginning as a raw material until its disposal?

life-cycle analysis


Which of the following statements about current U.S. waste disposal is true?

We landfill half of our trash and recycle a third of it


How can an engineered cover on landfills reduce decomposition of the trash?

The cover keeps the landfill dry, which decreases the ability of bacteria to decompose trash.


Which of the following statements about U.S. landfills is true

There are more active landfills in existence today than ever before.


What is the goal of an industrial ecologist?

reduce the waste in industrial systems


Why do industries tend to produce so much waste even though it is not the most efficient way to do business?

In most cases, there is no financial incentive for becoming efficient.


Which of the following types of hazardous waste are unstable and pose dangers when in contact with other compounds?



Which of the following sectors produces the most hazardous waste?



Which of the following choices best describes a surface impoundment used for hazardous waste disposal?

used to store and concentrate dilute liquid hazardous waste before it is moved to a permanent disposal option


Substances that degrade the metals that make up storage tanks or equipment are called __________.



What is an abandoned waste site that poses a direct threat to health and the environment, designated to have U.S. government funds applied to its cleanup?

Superfund site


Which statement about e-waste is accurate?

E-waste contains toxic heavy metals that can leach into the environment


What do chromium, mercury, copper, and tin have in common?

They are heavy metals.


What is a potential, and likely, drawback to the deep-well injection of hazardous wastes?

Well casings can corrode leaking hazardous waste into soil, rock, and gravel.


Of the following, ________ produce(s) the largest amount of hazardous waste.



To safeguard against groundwater contamination, sanitary landfills are ________.

lined with plastic and clay


Deep inside landfills, bacteria decompose organic wastes in a low oxygen environment. This anaerobic decomposition results in a mix of gases called landfill gas, which consists of about 50% ________.



The best solution to the solid waste problem is to ________.

reduce the amount of material that enters the waste stream


The second step in the recycling loop is ________.

the use of recyclables by industry to manufacture new products


The Fresh Kills Landfill ________.

site will be converted into a public park


________ is the conversion of organic waste into mulch or humus.



The earthworms, fungi, and bacteria in your compost pile will NOT be happy if you give them ________.



RCRA is a U.S. law enacted in the 1970s to ________.

regulate how hazardous waste is handled


The Trash Track project ________.

monitors the movement of trash items to improve efficiency of management processes


Approximately ________% of all U.S. residents are served by curbside recycling programs, and the part of the U.S. waste stream that is recycled is currently about ________%.

50; 25


Recycling aluminum cans saves ________% of the energy needed to make the same amount of aluminum from virgin bauxite.



In Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, glass is ________.

recycled into reflective paint and signs


Industrial ecologists ________.

redesign industrial systems to minimize physical inefficiency and maximize economic efficiency


Life-cycle analysis ________.

examines the life cycle of products for ecological efficiency


All of the following are considered to define types of hazardous waste except ________.



Of the following, ________ represent criteria for classifying hazardous waste.

ignitable, corrosive, reactive, toxic


Heavy metals ________.

bioaccumulate in animal tissues


________ represent(s) the largest source of unregulated hazardous waste



Of the following, ________ are classified as hazardous heavy metals

lead, mercury, cadmium


E-wastes are a source of ________.

heavy and precious metals


As of 2014, under the jurisdiction of the EPA, approximately ________% of hazardous sites identified under CERCLA as a national priority have been cleaned up.



Deep-well injection ________.

injects mostly liquid hazardous wastes into porous rock isolated by impervious clay deep beneath human water supplies


The EPA is charged with cleaning up brownfields, which are ________.

lands whose reuse or development is complicated by the presence of hazardous materials


The current state of e-wastes is that ________.

although recycling is improved, the rate of e-wastes going into landfills and incinerators is rising


The prevalence of “throwaway mentalities” and increased packaging has amplified the consumption of paper and plastic in our society. Disposable plates, cups, and utensils are convenient, sanitary, and inexpensive. Further packaging also preserves freshness, prevents breakage, protects against tampering, provides information to consumers, and allows shipment of products over long distances. However, paper and plastic do not degrade readily in sanitary landfills. Garbologist William Rathje found legible newspapers in landfills decades after disposal. Because trees used to make virgin paper and petrochemicals used to make plastics may soon become depleted, source reduction is the best solution to the waste dilemma. Denmark has banned the use of non-refillable beverage containers and McDonald’s restaurants in Austria and Sweden have been using biodegradable, compostable cutlery. Recycling has value as well, as long as the recycling loop is closed and people purchase recycled items. Bottle bills and municipal curbside collection provide recycling incentives. Paper recycling is profitable if waste is properly sorted. All kinds of paper and cardboard are recyclable. Food and paperboard (uncorrugated thin coated board) can contaminate collections, however, reducing their value. After processing, paper and cardboard are used to make paper towels and paperboard for packaging cereal, shoes, and toys. Decapped, washed, and squashed plastic is recycled into carpets, pillows, and new bottles. Although low-density polyethylene, or LDPE (recycling symbol #4), from grocery bags is the most widely used plastic, beverage bottle polyethylene terephthalate, or PETE (symbol #1), and high-density polyethylene, or HDPE (symbol #2), are the most widely recycled plastics. Containers from toxic substances such as motor oil, pesticides, and solvents are not usually accepted with collected plastic because of contamination. Methods to reuse and recycle polystyrene are in development, although presently, Styrofoam is not collected with other plastics and so it is considered a contaminant as well.


The best way to reduce plastic in landfills is to ________.

buy products produced locally with minimal packaging


Closing the recycling loop refers to ________.

purchasing items made from recycled materials


Plastic ________

from beverage containers is easily recyclable if decapped, washed, and squashed



________ are wastepaper contaminants that cannot effectively be recycled

Cereal boxes


Paper and plastic waste share the following characteristics: ________.

their increased consumption leads to increased waste


LDPE is ________.

the plastic used to make grocery bags

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