The EPA’s census of US waste tallied 262.4 million tons of new junk in 2015—the weight of about 40 Pyramids of Giza, or 4.5 pounds per person per day. We can recycle about one-quarter of what we toss, but rising costs and trade issues mean some municipalities no longer bother. Even in places that still attempt to keep trash out of landfills and oceans, not all “recyclable” items end up renewed. Here’s how much of that stuff actually makes it back into circulation—and why it’s smart to use fewer disposables, no matter what bin you put them in.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2019, Make It Last issue of Popular Science.