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10 Shocking Statistics on How Much We Throw Away

10 Shocking Statistics on How Much We Throw Away
Written by Oana Schneider

When you’re taking out the trash, do you stop to think about how much waste your household is actually producing? If you’re a family with three kids, the waste from your kitchen to the paper waste in your home office would probably amount to three or more trash bags per day.

When you’re having a barbecue party with friends, the trash will even be greater if you are using paper plates and plastic cups. If you order takeout, the pizza or noodle boxes will add up to the trash. The same thing holds true for the plastic and cardboard boxes used for packaging when you’re doing your weekly grocery shopping, which adds up to a lot especially if you are buying in bulk.

There’s also old clothes, knickknacks, empty bottles, used batteries, non-working gadgets – the list of the things that we throw away on a monthly basis are practically endless. If you don’t stop to consider how much you are actually throwing away, you will not exert effort into reducing such wastage. This does not bode well at all for the environment, which is why it pays to be aware of exactly how much we are throwing away – and what can be done about it.

What Are the Most Shocking Waste-Related Statistics?

To give you an idea about how much stuff we are wasting or throwing away on a daily, monthly and yearly basis, here are a few key statistics from different sources:

1. Over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the US each year, costing retailers an estimated $4 billion.

In the United States, 380 billion plastic bags, sacks, and wraps are used. Just imagine how many landfills this would consume. For retailers, the cost of such plastic consumption is about $4 billion but more than that, you can imagine the cost of cleaning up such humongous waste from the environment.

Plastic bags were first introduced in supermarkets way back in 1977, and they are still being used up to now. If each plastic bag takes up to 1,000 years to break down and there are 380 billion plastic bags used for just one year, it would take practically forever for all that waste to be broken down. 

10 Shocking Statistics on How Much We Throw Away

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What’s worse is that when animals ingest the plastic bags, and they die, the plastic remains in the environment. A related statistic from the same site is that at least 267 species are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of plastic marine debris, which in turn poses a threat to wildlife. With these numbers involving plastic waste, you might want to think twice about using plastic bags the next time you go on a trip to the supermarket. 

2. Every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags. 

There are more shocking statistics concerning the use of the plastic bag. According to the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World Report, 4 to 5 trillion plastic bags including large trash bags, thick shopping bags, and thin grocery bags were produced globally in 2002. Out of this, 80% were used in North America and Western Europe.

In the US, specifically, 100 billion plastic bags for grocery shopping are thrown away per year. This equates to 1,500 plastic shopping bags per year. To produce these plastic grocery bags, 12 million barrels of oil is required, and only less than 5% of the plastic grocery bag consumption is recycled. When plastic bags are produced, not only do they require petroleum, natural gas, chemicals and oil, but the overall production process is toxic to the air. 

3. Americans consume 190 billion sodas, juice drinks and other beverages packaged in plastic/glass bottles or aluminum cans per year. 

What about when it comes to plastic bottles consumption? For the year 2006, Americans spent $15 billion on 8 billion gallons of bottled water. All in all, the US consumes 190 billion sodas, juice drinks and other beverages packaged in plastic bottles, glass bottles or aluminum cans. If only 14% of plastic water bottles are recycled, you can imagine how much still ends up getting thrown into landfills. 

4. 40% of food in the US goes uneaten.

Next, let’s take a look at shocking statistics related to food. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40% of all food in the United States goes uneaten. In a published report, it says that “Getting food from the farm to our fork east up 10% of the total US energy budget, uses 50% of US land and swallows 80% of all freshwater consumed. 40% of food goes uneaten.”

Considering how a lot of people, not just from the US but more importantly the underdeveloped countries in the world are going hungry, such food wastage is unjustified. As a consumer, you should take steps to waste less food – which can be done by simply shopping wisely, cooking only the amount of food you can consume, and eating your leftovers. 

5. As much as half of all the food produced in the world – equal to 2 billion tons – end up as waste every year. 

A related statistic from The Guardian reveals that as much as half of all the food produced in the world ends up as waste. This equates to food wastage of about 2 billion tons per year.

6. 30% to 40% of the food supply is wasted in the US, equaling to more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. 

In a report published by the United Nations Environment Program’s regional office in North America, it shows that up to 40% of the food supply in the US is wasted. For each person, this accounts to 20 pounds of food per month. 

7. In 2012, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash and recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of this material. 

For 2012, municipal solid waste, more commonly known as trash or garbage, amounted to 251 million tons. This is according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. MSW consists of everyday items like product packaging, grass clippings, clothes, furniture, bottles, food scraps, appliances, newspapers, batteries, paint, etc. The sources are homes, schools, hospitals and businesses.

10 Shocking Statistics on How Much We Throw Away

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8. The average American throws away about 65 pounds of clothing per year. 

When it comes to clothes, the average American throws away about 65 pounds of clothing per year. The reason? They do not fit anymore, the style is not considered trendy, or they simply do not want to wear the clothes. Aside from apparel, this figure includes other textiles that get thrown away like sheets and bedding. The impact of this to the environment is that decomposing clothing releases methane which is harmful to the environment. Also, the dyes and chemicals used in coloring or designing the fabric can leach into the soil, not to mention the space that all those thrown away clothes take up.

9. In the US, industry moves, mines, extracts, shovels, burns, wastes, pumps and disposes of 4 million pounds of material in order to provide one average middle-class American family’s needs for one year. 

Another study reveals that 4 million pounds of material is required to provide for the needs of one average middle-class family in the US. Americans represent only 5% of the world’s population, but they actually generate 30% of the world’s garbage. 

10. According to Statista.com, around 33.73 million metric tons of food was wasted in 2009 and here they are by type: 

  • Total avoidable waste = 55.41 million metric tons
  • Avoidable consumer waste = 33.73 million metric tons
  • Retail waste = 18.76 million metric tons
  • Distribution waste = 2.92 million metric tons

How Can We Reduce Such Wastage?

These statistics are definitely shocking and alarming. As an average consumer, what can you do to help reduce such wastage? It’s all about following the classic rule of the 3Rs where you need to reduce, reuse and recycle. Instead of throwing away paper, glass, plastic and metals, find ways to recycle them in your own home or look for a recycling facility in your area. You can also compost or collect organic waste from your kitchen so that they can break down naturally. The resulting compost can be used as natural fertilizer.

On the part of the manufacturer, they need to focus on source reduction or waste prevention, which is designing products which reduce the amount of waste that will be thrown away later on.

When it comes to reducing food wastage, you need to be mindful of what you are buying in the first place. Create a weekly menu so that you can determine how much food you need to cook for the family and only buy what you need. Consume leftovers and know when food or edible goods are about to expire so that you can consume them before they go bad. For clothes, donate the still-wearable items and do not buy more than what you actually need. For electronics, furniture, batteries and similar items, find ways to recycle them or check out the local recycling facility in your area.

By being conscious about how much stuff you are throwing away, you can exert the extra effort in reducing such waste, thereby benefiting the environment and the generations to come.

About the author

Oana Schneider

Oana Schneider is a published author located in Chicago, Illinois, who currently works for DontPayFull.com as a communication specialist and blog editor. She writes about lifestyle, family budget, has a degree in Communications and advocates for women’s rights. Her future plans include getting a Labrador and losing a few pounds.

13 Comments

  • Yeah, it’s definitely true that we consume (AKA waste) a lot of things. A consumer economy, although I like it myself, lends itself to waste in countless forms. People have to really take a look at how much they consume and where they’re wasting resources. Waste is so unnecessary by its very definition, so we need to cut back on our consumption of resources today.

  • It’s so shocking knowing everything we just waste! knowing should make us Do something about it and make a change.

    • Knowing the facts isn’t enough for everyone, though. Some people are more moved by seeing how much we actually waste in landfills. It’s easy to ignore the numbers and hard to ignore what’s in front of your eyes. At some point, most of us should strive to reduce our waste, but it hasn’t happened yet.

  • 40% of food goes uneaten! Now that’s a lot.That’s almost half of the food you prepare or buy! This is shocking. Maybe we should take sometime to gauge the amount of food that we can consume so that we buy only what we need or better yet practice storing the leftovers for later consumption.

    • It’s really easy to waste food and throw it away, though. We make overly large portions more often than not, and then we wind up throwing away the excess. That can easily be more than 40% of everything that you’ve made, which is a huge problem. We’d have far more food to spread to the needy if we weren’t wasting what we buy!

    • You are right Wameyo, leftover food may be stored to avoid unnecessary purchase of food. It saves money and minimizes wastage. We can easily plan ahead for each week and buy only as much as wanted. Good point there, mate!

  • This really was quite shocking especially the part about food wastage, coming from a family where food was never wasted and as children we always had to finish everything it’s never been something that I’ve come across. It saddens me to think how much food is thrown away annually and how much people on the other side of the world need that!

    The other statistic that was rather surprising was about people throwing away their clothes. I’ve always donated old items to the local church bin where they’re given to people in need unless they were torn/unwearable. I imagine a lot of people also give/sell old clothing to thrift shops/salvation army etc so I’m quite surprised that so much gets thrown away!

    I do try to be more environmentally friendly by using re-usable grocery bags and such although I occasionally forget to put them back into the car. I will definitely make a much larger effort however to be less wasteful in all areas of my life. Thank you for the enlightening article, it really has made me think about how much I waste in my daily life.

  • We have become a throw-away culture. It started in the industrial era, but has really ramped up now that most of us live in abundance. Developed countries like the US are leading garbage producers, partly because of population, but also because of our culture of excess.

    • Unfortunately, we’ve been a throw-away culture for decades now, and perhaps even for a century or so. We’re not the only culture of excess, to be fair, and other countries have a reputation for waste, too. There are so many factors that go into such cultures, though, and it’s hard to reverse such trends.

  • I would like to concentrate one aspect in the above article: plastic pollution. The rising pile of plastic garbage is alarming the world over. Plastic does not degrade easily and poses a huge environmental challenge. It takes thousands of years to disintegrate and mix with the soil. In order to minimize plastic waste, we’ll do well to carry our own bags to shopping malls and bring back the goods home. This will reduce the use of plastic bags, sacks, and wraps.

    Use of aesthetically designed gunny/jute/paper bags is better off than plastic/polythene carry bags. We can do it if we determine to do so. Let’s give a clean planet to our future generations.

    • And yet people and companies still continue to fight against plastic bag bans, which have been shown to significantly reduce the amount of plastic in landfills and elsewhere. It’s shocking how selfish people can be when their convenience is taken away in the slightest bit for the greater good.

  • Wow, this is actually an eye opener, I kind of feel guilty because I have probably wasted and thrown away a lot before. I wasn’t thinking right, but looking at this article, it shows that a lot could be saved up and not wasted yearly, I mean the statistics about the USA in this article are correct as I’ve checked and it is actually quite shocking and surprising. I really hope that many people see these facts because it’s essential and very important to save our society from both pollutions and also poverty. Thank you for sharing all this information, it’s great and you’ve done a great job convincing people.

  • It’s astounding how much we waste on a daily basis, especially food-wise. Waste and littering are major reasons our area banned the use of plastic grocery bags. And it makes me feel good to know that I drink very few bottled beverages, and I always recycle the containers when I do. Nor do I ever throw clothing away if there’s another use for it (rags, etc.) or if it’s in good enough condition to donate. I try to watch my waste but there are definitely a couple of areas I could be better about.

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