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It can be difficult to really understand the impact we as individuals and as a species are affecting the planet. When we hear statistics like, “Every year, the United States generates over 230 million tons of trash,” we understand that that’s a lot of garbage, but huge numbers like that can be hard to fathom. What does “230 million tons of trash” look like? What impact does it have? Those questions are almost impossible to answer, leaving us with little understanding of what that number means.

In short, 230 million pounds is a huge amount of garbage and studies have shown that if we keep throwing things away at the rate we do, it will have serious, irreversible negative effects on the environment. So, something has to change. And to give you some motivation to make a change — even a small change will do (check out these two simple tricks to reduce waste) — here are some statistics that are a little easier to understand.

 

  1. If even one-tenth of all American newspapers that are thrown away were recycled instead, over 20 million trees would be saved every year.
  2. Every year, the average American uses two trees’ worth of paper products.
  3. The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash every day. If every American made a commitment to reduce the amount of trash we use by one pound each day, we would reduce the amount of trash we use in a year from 230 million tons to around 178 million tons. That’s still a lot, but it would be a significant improvement! Just goes to show how making small changes can have a big impact.
  4. The amount of paper that offices in America throw away each year could make a 12-foot wall long enough to reach from Los Angeles to New York City.
  5. If all of the trash that America throws away each year was stacked, it would create a chain long enough to reach the moon and back over 25 times.
  6. Americans are making progress when it comes to recycling — we recycle over 87 million tons each year, which is a huge step forward when compared with only 60 years ago when we were recycling an average of only 5.6 tons each year.
  7. Aluminum cans are the most recycled object in America, which is great news because we use about 65 billion of them each year.
  8. Glass and aluminum are two of many materials that are infinitely recyclable, which means they can be recycled indefinitely without any loss in purity or quality.