Congress Generates 11 Million Pounds of Trash

Several sources point to the same figure in regards to the amount of trash generated by facilities used by Congress: 5,300 tons or 10,600,000 pounds per year. (Source: New York Times)

This amount of trash is referred to as only ninety percent of the total, meaning the actual amount is probably over 11 million pounds, and is considered non-recyclable.

The total number of Congress members is 535, but they also have some support staff working with them, and of course there are some security personnel. Also, the Capitol Complex receives many, many visitors each year, but 11 million pounds per year of non-recyclable waste still seems excessive.

In 2009 and 2010 waste from the cafeteria was being composted, but Republicans did away with that program. They also eliminated the plant-based biodegradable utensils, and brought back styrofoam. Additionally a plan was put into place to have the millions of pounds of non-recyclable trash trucked to facilities that burn it to create to electricity.

“This is a response to the need for us to be more energy-efficient, more environmentally sensitive, more economical,” said Republican Representative from California Dan Lungren. (Source: New York Times) Actually, replacing biodegradable utensils and reintroducing styrofoam to be burned after use, is not environmentally sensitive. His comment is even more curious considering his historical lack of support for environmentally sensitive actions. The website On the Issues has some documentation of how he as voted on Energy and the Environment. According to them he voted:

YES on opening Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling. (May 2011)
YES on barring EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. (Apr 2011)
NO on tax credits for renewable electricity, with PAYGO offsets. (Sep 2008)
YES on deauthorizing “critical habitat” for endangered species. (Sep 2005)
NO on removing oil & gas exploration subsidies. (Jan 2007)

These are just some of his votes which seem to demonstrate an anti-conservation attitude.

If you want an example of a very large government facility that is actually employing more energy-efficient and environmentally aware practices, consider the Reichstag in Germany, where their national legislature operates. This facility uses solar panels, biofuel from rapeseed oil grown locally for energy, and a deep water storage system for heating and cooling.  The sustainable design also resulted in the lowering of co2 emissions by over 90%. The Reichstag has been recognized as a leading example of a green public building. It isn’t a coincidence that Germany is also a world leader in clean energy development, such as solar and wind power.

The reintroduction of styrofoam in Congress didn’t sit well with Democrats. One hundred signed a letter saying styrofoam contains a potential carcinogen. The text of the letter is here.

There are three waste-to-energy plants in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. One of the facilities says the burn enough trash to power 75,000 homes. They also say a retrofit required by the Clean Air Act in 2000 reduced their mercury emissions from trash burning by about 98%. Curiously, they make no mention of the potential downside to mercury they continue to emit, nor the amount they emitted for the years prior to 2000. Long-term mercury exposure from polluted air can cause a host of health problems, including brain damage.

Burning trash hardly seems like a solution to the trash problem, because it may diminish the motivation to recycle and does nothing to address why so much trash is constantly generated in the first place. According to the Clean Air Council, “Every year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times.”

Congress and the Capitol building complex could be an example of clean energy generation, conservation and recycling to the nation, but some politicians seem to want to ignore the real problems, and go backwards technologically.

Apparently even the White House still has no solar panels, even though a promise was made to install them.

Image Credit: Elliot P.


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Walter G.
Walter g.3 years ago

Is that political, moral or material trash? Trash in, trash out! we have a chance to change all that next year,by voting out the majority of incumbent trash now polluting desks in the congressional mulch pile. My apologies to mulch pits and piles everywhere, moat are only mouldering assemblies of waste matter and are not corrupt to boot.

Holly Lawrence
Holly Lawrence4 years ago

Trash generates trash!

Dolores M.
Dolores M.4 years ago

If we get rid of Congress look at all money (salaries + benefits) and trash we'd save. So, let's take out the trash!!!

Dave C.
Dave C.4 years ago

not including that they speak....any ideas on how much more this would be if they didn't try to cut-down and/or recycle....

just another reason our individual footprints are so high....for example, they say the average person throws about 40 to 50 pounds of trash per week, but we sure don't....obviously our politicians do a lot more....

Julija S.
Julija S.4 years ago


Brian Hamilton
Brian Hamilton4 years ago

disgusting yet not surprising

Zee Kallah
Past Member 4 years ago

and charges us for unhealthy disposals?

Bill K.
Bill K.4 years ago

this of course doesn't count the trash generated in rest of the country as a result of the decisions they make.

Carmen S.
Carmen S.4 years ago

sure the amount would be much higher if the non-physical portion was accounted for

Duane B.
.4 years ago

Only 11 million pounds of non-recyclable trash from Congress?! That seems like a terribly low estimate for all the trash they've been spreading around!! ;-)