Document Type



doi: 10.1177/0734242X12451305

Publication Date



Municipal solid waste, United States, quantity, models, error, national assessments


Municipal solid waste (MSW) is generated in very large quantities (probably, between 200 and 400 million tonnes per year) in the United States (US). MSW is generated at millions of places and there is no one precise, general definition for MSW that is generally applied, despite US Environmental Protection Agency efforts. As an element of both commerce and politics, reporting may be framed towards particular ends. Therefore, the two best known assessments of the quantity of US MSW production differ by approximately 50%. The assessors understand some of the reasons for the differences, but our analysis suggests that there are profound factors, not openly discussed, that affect estimates of waste stream size. Many regulators propose that strict, universal formats be adopted so that there is consistency in waste reporting; we note that this will not change the materials requiring management, only what is counted. Therefore, the most accurate assessments may be those where controllable errors are minimized but which suffer from differing definitions of “MSW.”



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