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US waste disposal underestimated, says new study

United States – A study by Yale University concludes that the USA is disposing of more than twice as much solid waste as US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculations have suggested.

Published in the Nature Climate Change journal, the Yale research indicates that the USA disposed of 262 million tonnes of municipal solid waste in 2012 – or 115% more than the EPA estimate of 122 million tonnes for the same year. The new estimate also exceeds the World Bank’s projection of municipal solid waste generation for 2025.

A key reason behind this differential lies in the methodology, confirm the researchers. The EPA has traditionally published waste generation and disposal figures using a materials flow analysis method based on information from industry associations, businesses, the US Census and the Department of Commerce. The Yale researchers have used a more direct method based on numbers reported by the operators of more than 1200 municipal solid waste landfills, as required by the US Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule.

Previous studies have suggested that the EPA underestimated waste disposal in the USA but the findings of the new Yale study represent the most accurate estimate to date, according to the researchers, owing to the landfill facility-level data sets used.

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