Trash is the common name for municipal solid waste -- the stuff that garbage collectors pick up and take to landfills. In most cases, municipal solid waste has more volume than it does weight. This means that it is relatively light but does take up large amounts of space. Though garbage is fairly heterogeneous, most of the garbage generated in America is made of paper products, yard trimmings, food waste and plastics [source: EPA].
America produces an absolutely gargantuan amount of trash -- so much that it's difficult to picture. But here's a shot: According to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2008, each person in the United States created a daily average of 4.5 pounds (2.04 kilograms) of solid waste [source: EPA]. Since there were roughly 300 million people living in America at the time, together, they were generating approximately 1.35 billion pounds (about 612 million kilograms) of garbage every day. To put that estimate in perspective, the average blue whale -- the largest mammal on the planet -- can weigh more than 100 tons (99,800 kilograms) [source: American Cetacean Society]. Assuming we are dealing with only modestly sized, 100-ton specimens, the United States throws away about 6,750 blue whales worth of garbage every single day.
According to another EPA estimate, Americans create roughly 251 million tons (228 million metric tons) of garbage per year [source: EPA]. To concretize this number, imagine the RMS Titanic, which weighed 46,329 gross tons (47,072 metric tons) [source: The Queen Mary]. The United States puts out more than 4,837 Titanics worth of solid waste in a normal calendar year.
Most of this trash is usually put into either a dump or a landfill. A dump is an exposed hole in the ground where trash is buried. Dumps have rats, birds and mice looming around. There are two types of landfills. A sanitary landfill uses clay liners to keep trash separate from the environment. A municipal solid waste landfill uses plastic liners to keep the trash isolated.
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