The Rest of Our Trash

Did you know? In 2011, Americans recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of municipal solid waste after generating a total of 250 million tons.[1]

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is defined as household, commercial and institutional waste materials generated in a given area.[2] More commonly known as trash or garbage though, it consists of the everyday items that we use and then throw away like packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries.[3]

In other words, it is the stuff that we throw away every day. The items might not always be the same, but chances are that nearly all of us are throwing away something on a daily basis. In fact, the average American produced about 4.4 pounds of trash each day in 2011.[4] And worse, Long Islanders are estimated to produce even more than that – at about 7 pounds per day.[5]

Generally speaking, this trash will end up in a landfill or an incinerator. However, a person may choose to recycle or compost thus ensuring that this does not happen. Presently though, our national recycling rate is 34.7 percent[6] suggesting that the majority of our trash gets wasted rather than utilized.

At LIU Post, we always strive to do what we can to waste less. Before we could implement an effective waste reduction strategy though, we needed to first learn about our overall waste stream. Part of this was very simple because our waste hauler Jamaica Ash weighs the contents of each compactor and each roll-off container whenever they make a pick-up. However, the majority of our waste is disposed of in our front-loaders and being that these front-loaders are picked up along a garbage route, there is no way to provide actual weights especially when our trash is mixed in with the trash of others.

In other words, it wouldn’t even matter if Jamaica Ash weighed the garbage collected on our route because we would never be able to precisely know the actual amount that we contributed. However, two separate students conducted two separate waste audits in the past 2 years where they were able to determine an average daily volume by observing the amount of trash in each front-loader for a period of 2 months. With both audits producing similar results, we are confident that we have developed an estimate that accurately reflects the amount of waste disposed of in our front-loaders.

Using a volume-to-weight conversion factor provided by Jamaica Ash, we were now able to calculate how much waste was generated in this previously unknown segment of our waste stream. Taking into account the waste reduction that occurs in the summer, it is estimated that 1,134,848 pounds of garbage were disposed of in our front-loaders in FY2012.

Although this number can never be stated with absolute certainty, it is still assumed that it reflects an accurate picture of by far the largest portion of our waste stream. Not to mention, the fact that both waste audits resulted in similar findings gives our estimate even more credibility.

Thank you for taking the time to learn about our waste at LIU Post and we hope that you will join us in our mission to waste as little as possible!


[1] Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2011   http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/MSWcharacterization_508_053113_fs.pdf

[5] According to the Stony Brook University study “Long Island Garbage Index” http://www.stonybrook.edu/est/research/LI%20Garbage%20Index%202002-2003.pdf

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