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Waste: Landfill Garbage Totals Higher Than Estimated

Sep 29, 2015 05:51 PM EDT

The nation's garbage is stacking up to be a lot more than experts thought.

The 2012 total for solid waste in the United States was 262 million tons. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had estimated 122 million tons for that year, so the total found by researchers was 115 percent higher than predicted. Also, that total was more than the World Bank had projected for solid waste in municipal areas for 2025, according to a release. 

Scientists say the differences between the total and the expectations result from methodology. Traditionally, the EPA's waste generation and disposal numbers came from a "materials flow analysis" method. This had its basis in information from the U.S. Census, industry associations, businesses and the Department of Commerce. Each of those indicated the amount that would be put into landfills.

Researchers from Yale University and University of Florida recently published their findings on their own methods in the journal Nature Climate Change. In their study, they collected numbers reported by more than 1,200 solid waste landfills in municipal areas. Such reporting is required by the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule. The study implemented four years of provided data, finishing with 2013 information.

The new data sets used provide the most accurate estimate we've had regarding garbage and waste in the U.S., the researchers say. They note that most landfills have certified scales used to weigh the garbage, and that using that data provides quality assurance through several levels of the study.

Based on these new numbers, most landfills have about 33 years of additional capacity. But nationwide, disposal capacity is increasing, the study concludes.
"I think the disposal rate and capacity numbers are interesting on their own, but I think in the bigger picture, it provides us a distinct, data-driven roadmap for where we can target emissions reductions in the waste sector," Powell says.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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