According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generated more than 245 million tons of trash—or municipal solid waste in technical jargon—in 2005, the latest year for which national figures are available. That translates to roughly 4 1/2 pounds of garbage produced by every person every day.
And that, in turn, has resulted in a $52 billion industry dedicated to dumping, incinerating and recycling all the nasty, gooey, hinky, stinky stuff that we don't want.
"It's a very, very serious problem," said Syed Qasim, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Texas who specializes in waste management. "In many states, we are running out of room for all the garbage we produce."
Beyond space considerations, there's also the matter of potentially hazardous gases, such as methane, generated by rotting trash in landfills, not to mention toxic chemicals leaking into groundwater supplies.
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