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The generation of waste, whether industrial or residential, is a fact of life in our society today. Nearly everything we do creates some type of waste. It is estimated that the United States alone generates 7.6 billion tons per year of non-hazardous industrial waste , 48 million tons per year of hazardous waste , and 250 million tons per year of municipal solid waste (MSW) .
Many of the waste streams and industrial by-products we generate each year contain recoverable energy. Capturing and utilizing this energy can create a positive impact both economically and environmentally. It not only extends a material's life cycle, but it also reduces the volume of waste sent to landfills, conserves non-renewable resources, and helps reduce manufacturing costs by providing a lower cost alternative to the rising costs of energy and waste disposal. Depending on the waste and the fossil fuel it is replacing, it may even help reduce our carbon footprint.
The volume of waste we generate continues to grow each year. In the United States, MSW generation has increased from 88 million tons in 1960 to 250 million tons in 2008 . The amount of industrial waste has grown as well. Some of this increase is due to the fact that we have 120 million more people in the United States today than we did 50 years ago, but much of it is a result of our changing lifestyles and consumption habits. Today, we use significantly more disposable items than we did 50 years ago, and we have developed thousands of new chemicals, plastics, paints, and adhesives; all of which generate their own production by-products that need to be disposed of. Figure 15.1 shows the growth in MSW generation rates from 1960 to 2008.