Waste & Recycling Facts

How Much Waste We Create

As of 2021, Pennsylvanians generate approximately 9.6 million tons of municipal waste annually. That’s about 1,480 pounds per person every year!

What We Throw Away

According to a study produced for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2022, the 10 most common materials in Pennsylvania residential waste are:

  • food waste – 17.0%
  • non-recyclable paper – 3.4%
  • corrugated cardboard – 7.3%
  • compostable paper – 7.3%
  • composite plastics –  3.0%
  • mixed paper – 5.5%
  • film plastic – 8.8%
  • diapers and sanitary products – 2.9%
  • textiles and leather – 4.0%
  • unpainted wood – 3.6%

Where the Waste Goes

The majority of municipal solid waste is managed in highly engineered, regulated and inspected landfills. A much smaller percentage is processed in waste-to-energy facilities.

What Landfills Are

Modern landfills have nothing in common with the dumps of bygone days where people just threw their trash into open holes or down the side of a hill. Today’s landfills utilize a wealth of experience and advanced environmental technology in design, development and operations. A multilayered liner system at the base of the landfill and a protective cap that covers the landfill upon completion serves to keep solid waste from the surrounding environment. In fact, today’s landfill design meets, and often exceeds, federal and state requirements, helping ensure that groundwater is protected for future generations.

Watch the video: What Is A Landfill?

Typical Lined Sanitary Landfill Design

Landfill Safety

Pennsylvania’s regulations for the location and design of landfills are some of the strictest in the nation. Today’s disposal facilities use the most advanced technology available, are designed with redundant safety systems to ensure environmental protection, and are operated in a manner that minimizes litter, noise and odors.

Landfills use rigorous quality-control and quality-assurance procedures and are extensively monitored and routinely inspected to ensure each facility complies with the strictest state and industry standards protective of the public health, safety and environment.

Hazardous Waste Does Not Go to Municipal Solid Waste Landfills

Pennsylvania generated 256,845 tons of hazardous waste in 2019 and most was from large-scale industrial and manufacturing processes, according to the 2019 EPA Biennial Report.

Hazardous waste includes manufacturing wastewater, solvents, acid, furnace dust and other materials of similar nature. This material does not go to municipal waste landfills. It must go to specially permitted hazardous waste transfer, storage and disposal facilities.

There are no hazardous waste landfill facilities operating in Pennsylvania. Hazardous waste recovered in Pennsylvania must be transported out of state for proper disposal.

Not All Municipalities In the State Recycle

Not every community recycles. DEP projects that roughly 94% of PA’s 13.1 million population have some level of access to recycling. The vast majority have convenient access to recycling through curbside pickup programs. In rural areas, more than 870 “drop-off” recycling programs extend recycling to a large number of communities.

DEP reports that in 2019, Pennsylvania citizens and industries recycled over 5.25 million tons of materials. That effort represents significant benefits to the environment: More than 7.38 million tons of carbon dioxide removed from the air — that’s equivalent to saving the amount of electricity produced in 1.34 million American homes or taking 1.6 million vehicles off the road for one year.

“Single-stream” Recycling

The single-stream process (also called “co-mingled”) is a system in which all recyclable materials are placed in one bin and sorted at a recycling center. This method has been proven to increase the amount that people recycle and provides the freedom of putting unbundled, unseparated recyclable materials into one container. In fact, communities that switch to single-stream recycling experience an almost instant 45% increase in the amount of recyclable materials collected.

Waste-Hauling Truck Safety

We believe that even one unsafe truck is one too many. PWIA has joined with representatives of state government, local government and waste haulers to support laws that help improve the safe transport of waste and compliance with environmental regulations.

The Waste Transportation Safety Act (Act 90) requires that all vehicles transporting municipal or residual waste to processing and disposal facilities in Pennsylvania must have a valid Waste Transporter Authorization. The PA Department of Environmental Protection has concluded that “except for vehicles out of service, the compliance rates for waste transportation vehicles and drivers are consistently better than other commercial vehicles inspected as part of PA State Police inspection.”