1. America's waste in numbers
Curbside recycling now serves about half of the U.S. population, but that wasn’t the case for Earth Day activists in 1970, when very few cities offered these programs.
In order to recycle, most residents had to transport recyclables to drop-off centers, which severely limited participation. The U.S. recycling rate in 1970 was 6.6 percent, compared to a 34.1 percent national recovery rate in 2010, according to the most recent EPA data available.
So, we recycled less, but we produced less waste, right? Well, yes and no.
Overall waste generation has nearly doubled since 1970, from 127.8 million tons to 249.9 million tons in 2010. But our use of some materials, such as glass and ferrous metals, has decreased or stayed about the same.
Additionally, responsible disposal of hazardous waste prevented more than 15 million pounds of toxic chemicals from being released into soil and waterways from 2007 to 2010 alone.
From government regulations and recycling services expansion to garbage crises and grassroots activism, here’s how America has grown in the ways we manage our waste.