What do you throw away?

Did you toss something into a trash can today? If you are like most people, you probably did — on average, about seven pounds’ worth. Have you ever really thought about what you throw away? The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) has thought about it and has studied it.

In September 2016, MoDNR began field work on a statewide waste composition study to better understand the types and amounts of materials sent to landfills. This study was completed in 2017.

The study involved collecting and sorting more than 250 samples of trash generated by households, institutions, businesses and industries — otherwise known as “municipal solid waste.” Each sample weighed more than 200 pounds and was hand-sorted into 48 categories. By the end of the study, more than 7,000 pounds of waste from 16 transfer stations and landfills was sorted and categorized.

collagewastesort

What do the results by weight show? You may be surprised:

  • Over 32 percent by weight of what we throw away falls into the “organics” category (food waste, wood, and yard waste).
  • The next largest category (26 percent) consists of paper products (cardboard, newsprint, office paper and compostable paper).
  • The single most prevalent material found was food waste, which accounted for about 15 percent of what was thrown away.
  • The second most prevalent material found was cardboard at more than 8 percent by weight.

The chart below reflects the composition percentages of the nine broad material categories.

Missouri Statewide Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Composition. Pie chart reflects the composition percentages of the nine broad material categories in Missouri landfills. Text reads "MSW Composition. Organics, 32.4%; Paper, 26%; Plastic, 15.3%; Inorganics, 12.7%; Textiles, 4.8%; Metal, 4.4%; Glass, 2.8%; Electronics, 1.2%; HHW, 0.4%.

The top ten components of residential, commercial and institutional waste are listed below. When summed, they account for over 59 percent of the overall municipal solid waste tonnage.

Top 10 Most Prevalent Materials in Statewide Municipal Solid Waste Stream. Bar graph reflects the top ten components of residential, commercial and institutional waste are listed below. When summed, they account for over 59 percent of the overall municipal solid waste tonnage from the study of Missouri landfills. Text reads "Top Ten Materials. Food Waste, 15%; Cardboard/Kraft Paper, 8.5%; Compostable Paper, 8.1%; Contaminated Film/Other Film, 5.9%; Wood - Painted/Stained/Treated, 4.5%; Mixed Recyclable Paper, 4%; Wood - Clean/Untreated, 3.7%; Remainder/Composite Organic, 3.5%; Disposable Diapers & Sanitary Products, 3.1%; Bulky Items/Furniture, 3.1%.

Municipal solid waste accounts for approximately 67 percent of all of the waste sent to landfills for disposal. The study also evaluated other waste streams including construction waste, demolition debris, industrial waste, special waste and “other” waste. The chart below illustrates Missouri’s combined waste stream.

Missouri Statewide Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Composition Disposed. Pie chart shows percentages of materials disposed of in Missouri landfills. Text reads "Combined Waste composition. Organics, 26.5%; Paper, 18.2%; Plastic, 11.4%; Inorganics, 15.3%; Textiles, 3.3%; Metal, 3.4%; Glass, 2%; Electronics, 0.9%; HHW, 0.4%; Non-MSW, 18.7%.

This is the third time that Missouri has conducted a waste composition study, with earlier studies conducted in 1998 and 2008. If you would like to learn more about the types and quantities of solid waste disposed of in Missouri landfills, all study information can be found on the MoDNR website.

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