37 Unsettling Landfill Statistics And Facts

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

We all know landfills are ugly and bad for the environment and there are currently over 2,000 landfills that are active in the United States. Landfills are often camouflaged quite well so you may not even realize there are so many of them.

However, the negative issues that come with landfills are continuing year after year. So continue reading to learn what those issues are, and what we can do to help our environment!

37 Unsettling Landfill Statistics And Facts

1. We Throw Away Around 2.5 Million Plastic Bottles Every Hour

It’s shocking, I know, but it’s true. Americans throw away around 2.5 million plastic bottles every single hour.

That’s around 42,000 bottles thrown away every single minute and around 695 every second!

2. It Takes Around 500 Years For A Plastic Bottle To Decompose

At the rate we throw away plastic bottles compared to the length of time that it takes for a plastic bottle to fully decompose, America’s trash habits are becoming increasingly negative.

We know that plastic bottles can be recycled, however, we don’t make a conscious enough effort to do it as much as we should.

3. There Are 25 Trillion Pieces Of Plastic Debris In The Ocean

This is hard to believe but there are actually 25 trillion little pieces of plastic found in our oceans.

Furthermore, around 269,000 tons of this plastic float to the surface, and around 4 billion small plastic fibers per square kilometer take nests in the deepest parts of the sea.

Over 100,000 Aquatic Animals Die Each Year Because Of Plastic

Again, this may come as a shock to many people, but it’s a fact that over 100,000 marine animals perish due to plastic waste in our oceans.

This is usually due to ingestion or entanglement in the plastic causing them to drown or choke.

4. Plastic Bags Can Take Around 10-100 Years To Degrade In A Landfill

A landfill is no place for plastic as it can take around 10-1000 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill and can take much longer for other plastic items.

This is because a landfill deprives the plastics of sunlight, air, and moisture – the three main things needed to decompose.

Therefore, it’s very important to choose recycling over landfills for plastic products.

5. Glass Bottles Take Around 4,000 Years To Decompose

If you thought plastic took a long time to decompose, make way for glass as 4,000 years is an extremely long time.

This is why Americans are encouraged to recycle their glass bottles and jars rather than throwing them in the trash.

6. Glass Is Infinitely Recyclable

Yet another reason why recycling glass is so great – the material is infinitely recyclable.

This means that glass bottles and jars can be recycled over and over again an unlimited number of times and this will have no effect on the quality or purity of the product.

7. Around 80% Of Recycled Glass Containers Are Made Into New Containers

When glass containers are recycled, around 80% of them are re-melted in a furnace and are then made into new glass containers such as bottles or jars that are then used again.

Since glass is infinitely recyclable, this process can be repeated over and over again forever.

8. Americans Use Around 65 Billion Soda Cans Each Year

To many people, this is a shocking statistic, but, it is true – Americans use around 65 billion aluminum soda cans every single year.

Many of these are recycled, however, many of them do end up in landfills across the country.

9. Aluminum Cans Can Be Recycled Infinitely

Unfortunately, many aluminum cans do end up in landfills. This is a real shame as there is no limit to the number of times that aluminum can be recycled.

10. Aluminum Cans Are The Number One Recycled Item

In the United States, aluminum cans make up less than 1% of all waste. This is because they are the most recycled item across the US.

11. Most U.S Junk Mail Ends Up In A Landfill

Americans receive around 4 million tons of junk mail every year.

Most of this paper waste, unfortunately, winds up in landfills, filling up even more landfill space with a product that can very easily be recycled.

12. Americans Use Around 650 Pounds Of Paper Every Year

Many people use paper without even thinking, as it’s everywhere from work documents to packaging to everyday mail.

Additionally, each American uses around 650 pounds of paper each year without even always realizing it.

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13. Making Paper From Recycled Materials Uses Less Energy Than New Paper

By using fewer trees to create paper, we leave more trees alive on earth to absorb excess carbon dioxide.

Furthermore, making paper from recycled materials uses much less energy than creating a new piece of paper from original tree products.

With this in mind, recycled paper is a lot better for the environment all around.

14. Recycled Paper Helps To Save Trees, Oil, And Landfill Space

One ton of recycled paper can help to save around 17 trees, over 350 gallons of oil, and a very large portion of landfill space.

Therefore, you can see how important it is for our planet to recycle paper as much as possible.

15. A Single American Uses Around Two Trees Worth Of Paper Products Every Year

When you consider how many people live on this planet, and how much paper the average person uses, it’s easy to see why our forests and woodlands are suffering.

Additionally, the average American will consume roughly two trees annually worth of paper products.

16. Around 44 Million Newspapers Are Thrown Away Every Day

There are roughly 62 million newspapers printed every single day in the United States.

Of those 62 million, around 44 million of them will be thrown away. That’s the equivalent of around 500,000 trees’ worth of paper.

17. We Could Save Millions Of Trees By Recycling Newspapers

The majority of newspapers produced are disposed of and end up going to landfills.

However, if Americans recycled just 1/10 of all printed newspapers, this would save around 25 million trees.

Landfill and Recycling Facts and Statistics

18. Only One-Tenth Of All Solid Waste In The United States Is Recycled

With this in mind, a shocking nine-tenths of all solid waste in the United States end up being thrown away in landfills.

19. Landfills Are One Of The Biggest Contributors To Soil Pollution

Landfills are extremely bad for the environment and contribute to most of the world’s soil pollution.

Additionally, around 80% of the things that are buried in landfills could easily be recycled instead.

20.Around 75% Of All Waste In The United States Is Recyclable

Even though around 75% of waste in the United States is recyclable, only around 30% of waste is recycled, and the majority of the rest ends up in landfills.

It is thought that many Americans don’t realize how easy it is to recycle waste, and many are unaware of a lot of the consequences that come with throwing away recyclable items.

21. Recycling Plastic Saves Energy and Creates Less Pollution

One single recycled bottle made from plastic creates around 20% less air pollution and around 50% less water pollution than a bottle that is made of entirely new products.

Furthermore, the recycled bottle can also save enough energy to power a 100-watt lightbulb for around four hours.

22. Recycling Plastic Saves Around Twice As Much Energy As It Takes To Burn It

Many people believe that recycling is a long process that could use up a lot of energy and that it’s simply easier to just burn it.

However, this couldn’t be further than the truth. Recycling plastic uses around half the amount of energy as burning it.

This is just another reason as to why we should be more conscious about recycling.

23. The United States Is Capable Of Reducing A Lot Of Pollution

The recycling rate in the U.S is around 34.5%. If we started to take recycling more seriously and managed to get that rate up to 75%, the pollution rates would decrease significantly.

Furthermore, if we were to get that rate up to 75%, it would be the equivalent rate of pollution saving as removing 50 million cars from our roads.

24. Shoes And Textiles Take Up A Large Portion Of Landfill Space

Every year, around 11 million tons of shoes, textiles, and clothing are thrown away and end up in landfills. All of these items could be recycled.

25. Many People Would Choose To Recycle If It Was ‘Easier’

Around nine out of ten people have said that they would choose to recycle if the process was easier.

This means that many people choose to throw their recyclable trash away with all of their other trash for the convenience aspect.

26. Around $11.4 Billion Worth Of Recyclable Packaging is Thrown Away Every Year

Packaging and containers make up a huge portion of the items that end up in landfills.

However, most modern packages and containers are recyclable.

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27. Only 53% Of U.S Citizens Are Automatically Enrolled In Recycling Programs

Many other countries in the world, particularly in Europe, have 100% enrollment in recycling programs.

If the United States were to follow suit, the recycling rates would increase drastically and this would have a huge impact on the amount of trash that ends up in landfills.

28. The Total Municipal Waste Produced In The United States Has Risen By 77% Since 1980

Municipal waste is what we refer to as common trash.

It can include things like durable goods such as furniture and tires, nondurable goods such as newspapers and plastic cups, containers, and more.

However, the amount of this type of common trash has increased in the United States by 77% since 1980 – that’s a whopping increase!

Furthermore, the amount of municipal waste produced in the United States is now 268 million tons per year.

29. Landfills Contribute To Several Different Environmental Impacts

There are multiple environmental impacts of landfills including loss of land area, emissions of methane, and the potential of allowing hazardous materials to enter groundwater.

30. The Combined Capacity Of the Two Largest Landfills In the United States Is Almost 10 Billion Yards

As you can see from these statistics, landfills are extremely large and take up a very large amount of U.S land.

Additionally, the space for landfills will only keep increasing as we produce more and more waste.

However, the only way that we can prevent this from happening is to increase the number of items that are recycled to reduce the number of recyclable items that end up in landfills.

31. Landfill Incineration Causes A Huge Range Of Different Pollutants

Some of the pollutants caused by the incineration of landfill materials include carbon dioxide, heavy metals, dioxins, and particulates.

These all contribute to major impacts such as smog, climate change, acidification, and more.

They also contribute to negative human health impacts such as asthma and damage to the heart and nervous system.

32. Food Waste Makes Up Around 15.2% Of Municipal Solid Waste

Of this 15.2%, only around 6.3% is composted or recovered.

Therefore, the best way to tackle all of this extra food waste is to ensure that we are meal planning efficiently and to compost any scraps that we can.

Furthermore, this will reduce the amount of food waste that ends up in landfills.

33. Each American Citizen Throws Away Around 4.4 Pounds Of Trash Per Day

Although that may not sound like a lot, if you consider the number of people who live in the United States (around 323.7 million), it does add up quickly.

With the average American throwing this much trash away every day, that adds up to around 728,000 tons of trash being thrown away each day.

That’s enough trash to fill around 63,000 garbage trucks!

35. There Are Over 2,000 Active Landfills In The United States

Many people don’t believe it, but there are actually over 2,000 active landfills in the United States and many more that are now closed.

With this in mind, you may actually live a lot closer to a landfill than you might think.

36. There Are Thousands Of Inactive Landfills In The United States

You may not know it, but there are thousands of old landfills all over the United States and some of them have found a new life.

Many old landfills are now public parks – a fact that may be shocking to some people.

However, most of the inactive landfills across the U.S are out of sight.

For example, the West Coast is a particularly busy area for landfills – there are a dozen landfills in the Los Angeles area alone, however, most of them are now closed.

37. Citizens Of Nevada Produce More Waste Than Citizens Of Any Other U.S State

The average person living in Nevada produces around 38.4 tons of waste that ends up in landfills.

Additionally, there are only three states in the entire country where the citizens produce less than 10 tons of garbage that goes to landfills.

Furthermore, those states are Idaho, North Dakota, and Connecticut.


Below are some commonly asked questions about landfills that many people are still unsure of:

What Goes Into A Landfill?

Most of the time, a landfill is a municipal solid waste facility and it will collect and bury waste that isn’t sent to a municipal recovery facility (MRF).

Therefore, the items that usually appear at a landfill site include paper, food waste, plastic, glass, and some other products that could also be composted or recycled.

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Why Are There So Many Landfills In The U.S Compared To Other Parts Of The World?

A major reason why there are so many landfills in the U.S compared to other areas such as Europe is that there is a lot of space available in the United States.

Furthermore, since the U.S is so large, there is a lot more room available for burying waste.

What Happens In A Landfill?

On a molecular level, many things are happening beneath the surface as all of the items in landfills are decomposing or biodegrading.

However, these processes happen at a very slow rate because landfills are designed to stop these processes.

How Long Does It Take For Things To Biodegrade Or Decompose When In A Landfill?

This is a difficult question to answer as each thing that is placed on a landfill site will degrade at a different rate depending on what the material is.

Plastic is one of the worst products as many plastic items do end up in landfills and these can take hundreds of years to fully decompose.

Furthermore, when things are placed in a landfill, they lack air, moisture, and sunlight which are three of the main elements needed for biodegradation.

Below is a list of product materials and the time it takes for those materials to full decompose within a landfill site:

  • Paper waste – around 2-6 weeks
  • Food waste – around 6 months – a year
  • Cigarette butts – around 10-12 years
  • Plastic bags – around 10-100 years
  • Leather shoes – around 25-40 years
  • Aluminum cans – around 80-200 years
  • Glass – up to one million years

Are We Running Out Of Landfill Space?

The United States is the largest producer of waste in the world.

As a country, the U.S accounts for around 12% of the world’s waste despite only accounting for around 4% of the world’s population.

Not only that, but the United States is also the only developed nation where municipal solid waste generation outpaces recycling.

So how long will it be until we run out of room for all of this waste that we produce?

The answer to this is quite complex, however, it depends a lot on which state you live in.

According to a study completed in 2015 by Dr. Bryan Staley (CEO of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation), the answer is unbalanced.

According to the analysis, seven states could run out of landfill space in the next five to 10 years and three states could run out in around 11 to 20 years.

However, 22 states have enough landfill space to last for a few decades.

The outcome of the analysis found that, as a nation, it will take around 62 years until all of the currently active landfill facilities are full to the brim.

What Are The Environmental Benefits Of Recycling Instead Of Sending Trash To Landfills?

There are several environmental benefits of recycling.

The main benefits are that it conserves energy, reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions, reduces pollution in the air and water, and conserves natural resources.

So if you choose to recycle instead of sending your recyclable trash to the landfill, the result will be cleaner air and water, more forested land and open spaces, and less pollution.

However, the biggest environmental advantage of choosing to recycle is that it conserves natural resources and energy.

When a product is made from new materials instead of recycled materials, this will require more natural resources and more energy to produce than a recycled product.

Additionally, making products from scratch also produces much more pollution than recycling products.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on what plastics cannot be recycled, the six R’s of sustainability, and the 27 advantages and disadvantages of recycling.


As you can see in this article, there are many benefits to choosing to recycle trash instead of sending recyclable trash to landfills. Not only does it save energy and natural resources, but it also releases fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

So with that in mind, everyone should focus on finding ways to safely and effectively recycle waste rather than sending it to landfills, as a lot of the waste we send to landfills is recyclable.


  • Jean Richardson

    Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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