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States with the most landfill waste

  • States with the most landfill waste

    Landfills are an indelible feature of the American landscape, visible among rolling hills, in mountain hollows, and even from space. With the United States producing some 728,000 tons of garbage every day, working out to 4.4 pounds per person, the country’s thousands of landfills are an integral part of solid waste management.

    In years past, landfills were open town dumps, barely regulated if at all. Garbage often was simply set on fire. Modern landfills are far more efficient and environmentally conscious, sometimes intricately ventilated and using impervious liners to limit seepage and groundwater contamination.

    Inside landfills, decomposing matter creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. In fact, landfills are one of the largest contributors to methane emissions in the United States, accounting for 14% of emissions in 2017. Some landfills use flares to burn off methane from below to ensure it does not build up and possibly explode. Others use the methane as an energy source to generate electricity.

    Solid waste management has been forced to make dramatic adjustments in the United States since China in late 2017 stopped importing plastic waste. Called the National Sword policy, the Chinese move was aimed at protecting its environment and people’s health. The impact was big: Some 70% of the world's plastic waste had been going to China—around 7 million tons a year. Other countries in Southeast Asia stepped in, particularly Malaysia and also the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, some without well-developed regulatory systems.

    Many worry that more of the world’s plastic will end up discarded in illegal dumps, rivers, and the ocean—or burned. China’s abrupt waste restrictions left U.S. recycling firms facing skyrocketing costs. Where once they paid municipalities for waste that could be turned into recycled goods, they began charging for the cost of getting rid of waste instead. Cities and towns have suspended recycling, raised fees and taxes, and sent more waste to landfills.

    Today, U.S. landfills hold about 7.4 billion tons of waste. The state with the most waste in landfills is Nevada, while Idaho, North Dakota, and Connecticut have the least.

    Stacker has listed the states, ranked by the amount of their landfill waste per capita, and the sum of their landfill gasses, based on Save On Energy, using the EPA’s 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program data.

    You may also like: How much carbon dioxide does your state emit?

  • #50. Idaho

    - Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 4.1
    - Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 6.4

    Work is underway to build a cover for a 97-acre Cold War landfill in Idaho that contains radioactive and hazardous waste dumped in unlined pits and trenches from the former Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado, which made plutonium-based parts for nuclear weapons. The cover is aimed at preventing rain and snowmelt from traveling through the landfill's debris and contaminated soil and reaching the underground Snake River Plain Aquifer. The city of Twin Falls was one of many across the country that recently cut back its recycling program in the wake of China’s ban and will no longer accept plastics and mixed paper—a move expected to cut the city’s costs in half.

  • #49. North Dakota

    - Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 5.2
    - Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 5.0

    The low population and long distances between cities and towns in North Dakota make statewide recycling programs difficult to implement. Among its landfills, one in the northwest corner of the state is poised to become the first facility in the state to accept higher levels of radioactive oilfield waste, produced from oil and gas drilling. The waste has been trucked to disposal facilities out of state and also has been found dumped illegally in North Dakota.

  • #48. Connecticut

    - Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 7.3
    - Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 1.5

    Connecticut’s last major operational landfill takes in ash from garbage plants around the state and from New York. In 2017 residents threw away over 2.7 million tons of municipal solid waste, most of which was incinerated to create energy but creating hundreds of thousands of tons of ash. Connecticut enacted a law in 2019 charging 10 cents per single-use plastic checkout bag.

  • #47. Massachusetts

    - Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 10.8
    - Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 4.2

    In the 1980s, nearly all Massachusetts’ trash was dumped at hundreds of small landfills, mostly run by municipalities. Now private landfills are more common and just a few remain. As its landfills closed, about a quarter of its solid waste was hauled out of state to facilities in New Hampshire, Ohio, Maine, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island. A new master plan for Massachusetts through 2030 sets milestones for waste reduction, recycling and disposal, and successful initiatives include municipal "pay-as-you-throw" programs which incentivize households to reduce waste.

  • #46. Minnesota

    - Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 12.4
    - Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 4.0

    The recycling rate in major cities in Minnesota show that it is one of the best states at dealing with solid waste. Recycling collection produces $690 million in annual revenue and supports 37,000 jobs. Already surpassing the national average, by 2030 Minnesota is aiming for a 75% recycling rate for counties in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. But without China as an export option, recyclables have been piling up, service costs have increased, and some recycling collectors have reduced their business.

  • #45. New Mexico

    - Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 12.7
    - Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 5.3

    New Mexico was among the first states to feel the effects of China’s ban. The amount of waste from the Santa Fe area alone that ended up in landfills jumped to 25% from 9%, a difference of some 1,500 tons.

  • #44. Rhode Island

    - Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 12.7
    - Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 19.8

    Rhode Island’s Central Landfill accepts only in-state waste and provides disposal services to about 97% of residents. It is expected to reach capacity in 2034.

  • #43. Maine

    - Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 12.8
    - Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 7.7

    Maine has over 400 capped landfills, and towns and cities that are still using their landfills must have a plan in place to close them by 2025. The state banned single-use plastic bags in June 2019.

  • #42. Arkansas

    - Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 12.8
    - Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 6.8

    Arkansas recycles slightly less than half of its solid waste, a figure that has been on the rise. Most of the garbage ends up in its landfills.

  • #41. West Virginia

    - Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 13.3
    - Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 9.1

    As of 2018, West Virginia had 17 municipal solid waste landfills that processed almost two million tons of waste a year, about half of its permitted capacity. The state exported about 700,000 tons of waste but imported over 200,000 into the state. Before the mid-1970s, solid waste collection and disposal in West Virginia was largely uncontrolled and often burned at open municipal dumps, degrading water supplies, endangering public health, and harming property values and the state’s natural resources.

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