Got junk? You’re not alone. In fact, Americans devote more money, time and energy to junk than anyone else—from buying it to it to storing it to paying professional organizers to help corral it and, finally, to recycling, donating or trashing it.

So, SpareFoot went on a treasure hunt to find out more about the ins and outs of junk. Here are 40 interesting facts.

  1. Weird junk plucked from the world’s oceans last year: eight bowling balls, five rubber duckies, a plastic banana, a fireplace, a hardhat, a lawn mower, a plastic dinosaur, a shopping cart and a wig. (Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup 2015 Report)
  1. The number one type of trash collected on banks, beaches and shores by 561,895 cleanup volunteers in 2014: More than 2.2 million cigarette butts. (Ocean Conservancy)
  1. Over half of the stuff that comes through the U.S. mail is junk, and U.S. households get 85 billion pieces of junk mail each year. (The Household Diary Study from the U.S. Postal Service)
  1. Between 5 million and 12 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean every year. (Ocean Conservancy)
  1. Americans produce about 251 million tons of trash each year. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA)
  1. Almost 35 percent of U.S. garbage gets recycled, up from 10 percent in 1980. (EPA)
  1. San Francisco is the “greenest” city in the U.S., recycling 80 percent of its waste. (Siemens, City of San Francisco)

san francisco recycling

  1. San Francisco has a goal of reaching zero waste by 2020. (City of San Francisco)
  1. In Sweden, less than 1 percent of garbage ends up in landfills. The rest is recycled or burned for energy; trash heats more than 800,000 homes. (Swedish government website)
  1. More than 52,000 self-storage facilities operate in the U.S. (The SpareFoot Storage Beat)
  1. There’s enough self-storage space in the U.S. to hold every American, standing up, at the same time. (Self Storage Association)
  1. Almost half (49 percent) of Americans replace their cellphones yearly. (Recon Analytics)


  1. Americans have put 5 million tons of computers, TVs, pagers and other old electronics in storage. (EPA)
  1. About 40 percent of old medical equipment donated to developing countries ends up on junk pile because it doesn’t work properly. (The Lancet)
  1. Don’t trash those ratty T-shirts. About 50 percent of donated clothing—most of the stuff that’s not wearable—can get turned into rags, furniture stuffing, home insulation, vehicle soundproofing and other products. (SMART – The Association of Wiping Materials, Used Clothing and Fiber Industries)
  1. Only about 5 percent of old clothes—the garments that are moldy or contaminated with toxic solvents—must be thrown out. (SMART)
  1. Only about 16 percent of clothes, shoes and other textiles in the U.S. stay out of landfills. (EPA)
  1. About 1.4 billion pounds of used clothing and other textile waste in the U.S. get sent to more than 100 other countries each year. (SMART)
  1. Bizarre stuff hauled by 1-800-GOT-JUNK? includes: an antique birthing chair, a mummified cat, a mechanical bull, a freezer full of rotten seafood, a stack of old rebate checks, a couch full of bees, five moose heads, 13 porcelain Buddha statues, 50 garden gnomes and a truckload of old denture molds. (1-800-GOT-JUNK?)
  1. One man’s trash really is another’s treasure. Over 20,000 U.S. antique, consignment and thrift shops ring up $16 billion in revenue each year. (First Research)
  1. Goodwill Industries, which sells millions of donated items each year, posted $3.79 billion in sales at its 2,900 nonprofit stores in 2013. (NARTS, The Association of Resale Professionals)
  1. Used clothing makes up about 25 percent of sales in resale stores. Other big categories include antiques (13 percent), collectibles (10 percent), used furniture (10 percent), jewelry (7 percent) and used books (7 percent). (First Research)
  1. About 70 percent of newspapers, inserts and ads are recycled. (EPA)

newspaper recycling

  1. Oddball stuff that has accidentally (or intentionally) floated into space: a spatula, a camera, a $100,000 astronaut tool bag, a glove, a tank of ammonia and a capsule filled with “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry’s ashes. (Wired)
  1. Even Ferraris and Maseratis end up junked for parts. (Exotic Auto Recycling)
  1. The average American creates almost 4.5 pounds of trash per day and recycles or composts about 1.5 pounds of it. (EPA)
  1. One family in California produced only enough waste to fill a small canning jar in 2014. (
  1. The most recycled item: lead-acid batteries (96 percent). (EPA)
  1. What makes up our trash? Organic matter like yard trimmings and food scraps (28 percent), paper and cardboard (27 percent), plastics (13 percent), metal (9 percent), rubber, leather and textiles (9 percent), wood (6 percent), glass (5 percent) and other items (3 percent). (EPA)
  1. More than 3,000 community composting programs are in operation in the U.S. (EPA)
  1. Close to 100 U.S. cities offer curbside compost programs that let residents easily recycle banana peels, potato skins and other food scraps. (Governing Magazine)
  1. “Too much clutter” is the No. 1 reason people that hire a professional organizer. (National Association of Professional Organizers)
  1. Top areas in the home where people need help from a professional organizer: home office/den, kitchen, closet, master bedroom and garage/attic/basement. (NAPO)

Water Balz

  1. Recalled toys should get sent back to the manufacturer for repair or proper disposal, but over 80 percent end up in the trash. Toy recalls in 2015 include piggy banks that contain lead, toy knives that could cut kids and police cars with small parts that pose choking risks for kids. (Consumer Product Safety Commission)
  1. The Guinness World Record for most consumer electronics recycled in one week is 1,180,442 million pounds, set in April 2015 by Advanced Technology Recycling. (Guinness World Records)
  1. Scrap recycling creates 471,587 jobs in the U.S. that pay an average of $77,153, including benefits. (Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries)
  1. Americans are willing to spend 10 percent more for a product made of recycled materials. (Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries)

recycled napkin

  1. Millions of people around the world earn their living as “waste pickers,” plucking stuff from curbside bins, dumpsters and landfills. (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing)
  1. “Waste picking” is more common in the developing world, but also exists in industrialized countries. One professional waste picker in Canada publishes a blog to showcase recent finds: a colorful 1988 Swatch watch, coins, original art, hockey cards and an 18-karat gold watch buckle (sold on eBay for $650). (
  1. Over $21 billion worth of aluminum cans are buried in U.S. landfills. (Container Recycling Institute)
Allie Johnson