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The Green Life: Facing the Hangover: How Much Did We Throw Out Over the Holidays?

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January 03, 2012

Facing the Hangover: How Much Did We Throw Out Over the Holidays?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

Is it really true that we throw away 25% more stuff between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? What is the source of this information?

--Philomena in Racine, Wisconsin

The source of this information is the Use Less Stuff (ULS) report. And it’s certainly plausible that we'd toss that much more during the holidays, what with our traditional feasting, gifting, and regifting. Collectively, Anericans generate almost 250 million tons of trash, according to the EPA’s latest data on our dumping habits. The per-capita rate of waste has zoomed up from 2.7 pounds per person per day 50 years ago to more than 4.4 pounds per day. We are, however, recycling a lot more, up from a mere 6.4% 50 years ago to 34% now.

Over the holidays, food and paper are obviously biggies in the waste stream, and they make an interesting contrast in recycling progress and stagnation: Of the 71.3 million tons of paper used, we recycle 62.5%, By contrast, 33.8 million tons of food waste goes to the dump every year, with less than 3% making it to municipal composting facilities. Just something to chew on.

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