How much trash ends up in landfills, gets incinerated, in the ocean, and launched in space each year?



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    According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2009, approximately 132 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) were dumped in landfills. During the same year, 29 million tons of MSW was combusted for energy recovery. 

    Although it was harder to find data concerning the amount of waste that ends up in our oceans each year, I was able to find data on how much waste was collected at the International Coastal Cleanup, an event held the third Saturday of every September. In 2008, volunteers at the International Coastal Cleanup picked up 6.8 million pounds of trash. 

    Orbital debris or space waste is different from solid waste found on earth in that it is made up of man-made objects that no longer serve a purpose, but orbit around the Earth. Examples of orbital debris include debris released during spacecraft launching and/or during spacecraft explosions or collisions. According to the NASA Orbital Debris Program, there are approximately 19,000 objects (orbital debris) larger than 10cm in earth’s orbit. In addition, there is an estimated 500,000 particles between 1 and 10 cm in earth’s orbit and over tens of millions of particles that are smaller than 1cm in earth’s orbit. 

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