Maddox in his anti-SOPA statement makes following claim:

[people think that...] Painstakingly recycling every single shred of garbage in your home makes a difference. It doesn't. Even if you, your neighbors, and everyone you've ever met recycled everything and reduced your waste output to zero, it wouldn't even make an observable impact on overall waste production in the world. Household waste and garden residue account for less than 3% of all waste produced in the US. That's less than the average statistical margin of error, and most people don't even come close to producing zero waste.

Are these factual numbers? 3% seems quite low.

  • @Chad: he's listing number of futile "non-actions" ppl take, like signing on-line petitions, changing FB profile picture and recycling, which according to him have no real world impact.
    – vartec
    Jan 19, 2012 at 15:28
  • So I assume you are talking about the environmental impact as opposed to economic impact. I can easily demonstrate economic impact and show how at least 4 people have jobs in Peoria IL to deal with recycling that would not be needed with out. That would qualify as observable economic impact if nothing else.
    – Chad
    Jan 19, 2012 at 15:38
  • @Chad: impact on waste production.
    – vartec
    Jan 19, 2012 at 15:49
  • @Chad: Prius is, allegedly, about CO2 emission reduction, and recycling as I understand it, is about reducing waste production (what is actually being recycled is after all not wasted).
    – vartec
    Jan 19, 2012 at 16:47
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    This claim actually requires accepting the implied claim that individual waste has an observable impact on global waste production. That we need to reduce that waste production. And that the only pertinent reason for recycling is to reduce that waste. I think that there are benefits to recycling that go beyond waste reduction. So rejecting recycling (as the original claimant seems to do) because it does not have an observable impact on waste production is kind of like rejecting a granny smith apple for not being red.
    – Chad
    Jan 20, 2012 at 14:19

1 Answer 1


In Europe, the data show larger numbers than the claim. According to European Topic Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production:

Municipal waste represents approximately 14% of all waste generated.... [T]he largest fraction is paper and cardboard at 35% of the waste stream, followed by organic material at 25%.

The overall low percentage seems to arise from a definition of waste that includes many categories. Mining waste is the largest component:

Mining and quarrying activities give rise to the single biggest waste stream at 29% of the total quantity of waste generated in EEA countries. It has been shown that approximately 50% of the material extracted during extraction and mining activities in Europe becomes waste.

The next-largest component is Construction and Demolition waste.

  • 1
    A lot of municipal waste comes from commercial rather than household sources.
    – Henry
    Jan 19, 2012 at 18:37
  • That would depend on how much commercial activity is present in a given municipality.
    – auujay
    Jan 19, 2012 at 20:02
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    One way or the other, "your waste output" is small compared to "overall waste production" largely because "overall" includes categories such as mining waste whose inclusion is not necessarily intuitive or relevant to the evaluation of recycling. Jan 19, 2012 at 21:46
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    Just to make sure I understand: household waste accounts for a small percentage of overall waste (apparently more than 3%, but still small). But if we ignore mining waste, which presumably isn't stored in the same sort of landfill sites, it accounts for a large percentage. Is that right?
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 20, 2012 at 1:38
  • @Oddthinking Essentially, but of course it depends on your definition of "large." But "Construction & demolition waste" is almost as large a percentage as mining waste (in Europe) and that may go into the same landfills as municipal waste. Jan 20, 2012 at 2:14

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