Americans dumped twice as much trash as expected in 2012

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Americans dumped twice as much trash as expected in 2012

U.S. dumps took in 262 million metric tons of solid waste in 2012—more than double what some experts had previously estimated—according to a new study. The Environmental Protection Agency had calculated that, based on population data and patterns of consumption, dumps would receive 122 million metric tons of trash in 2012. The new figures come from data gathered by landfill managers under a government program mandated since 2010. Because decomposing trash is a major source of methane, the improved stats will help scientists better estimate the amount of that planet-warming gas emanating from landfills. The new data also show that about 91% of the methane being emitted from such dumps comes from those that are still receiving trash, the researchers report online today in Nature Climate Change. That high proportion may inspire researchers to come up with better ways to reduce such methane emissions, such as temporarily installing impermeable rubber barriers or other gas-blocking covers in some areas of active landfills. The nation’s landfills, on average, have about 34 years of useful life remaining, but there is a glimmer of good news: Because of expansion of existing facilities and opening of new ones, the nation’s landfill capacity, at least for now, is growing.