SINCE THE LATE 1980s, many states have been concerned about the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) they receive from out-of-state sources. Opponents of trash shipments often say they are being dumped upon and ask, why should we have to dispose of wastes we did not generate? However, as data from the Congressional Research Service collected in 2002 shows, every state except Hawaii relies on another state to manage some part of its own MSW. Additionally, data released in the “National Biennial RCRA Hazardous Waste Report (Based on 2001 Data)” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., in October 2003 shows a similar dependence on other states for the proper treatment or disposal of hazardous wastes regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
In 2001, the amount of RCRA hazardous waste generated was 40.82 million tons, with Texas generating the most (19 percent) and South Dakota generating the least (950 tons). The amount of hazardous waste generated in the United States in 2001 was about 10 percent of the total amount of MSW (386.8 million tons).
Of the total hazardous waste generated, 10.2 percent or 4.15 million tons was shipped to another state or territory for treatment and disposal. More than half of the hazardous waste exported to another state for treatment or disposal came from nine states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas. California exported the largest quantity at 422,670 tons (10.7 percent), while the remaining eight states exported fewer than 300,000 tons but more than 200,000 tons each. All 50 states, as well as Guam, the Navajo Nation and Trust Territories exported some portion of the hazardous waste they generated. Illinois and New Jersey had the largest hazardous waste exports in 2001 and also had the highest MSW exports.
Some 56 percent of the hazardous waste imported went to eight states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. Five of these states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Texas) were also the highest exporters. Ohio imported the largest amount of hazardous waste at 508,836 tons (12.7 percent), and Michigan was the second largest importer at 394,064 tons (9.8 percent). Ten states or territories (Alaska, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Montana, Navajo Nation, New Hampshire, Trust Territories, Virgin Islands and Wyoming) did not import hazardous waste for treatment or disposal.
As with exports, the percent of hazardous waste imported when compared to the amount generated (9.8 percent) was nearly identical to the percent of MSW imported in 2001 (9.7 percent). Five of the states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania) with the highest hazardous waste imports also had the highest MSW imports in 2001.
Nationally, states and U.S. territories export more hazardous waste than they import. The EPA's report did not explain where the unaccounted 0.14 million tons of exported hazardous waste went. Most likely, it was sent out of the country, possibly to Canada, for treatment or disposal.
Four states had net imports (imports minus exports) greater than 100,000 tons. Ohio was the largest net importer accepting 210,914 tons. Both Ohio and Michigan were among the largest net importers of MSW in 2001. Three states had net exports (exports minus imports) greater than 100,000 tons. California was the largest net exporter, shipping 417,990 tons.
The latest data shows that all states import and/or export RCRA hazardous wastes to ensure proper treatment and disposal. Similar to MSW, fewer facilities manage hazardous waste than in the past and may not be located in the states where the waste is generated.
Therefore, like MSW, hazardous wastes must travel longer distances and cross state lines to ensure environmentally protective management. As the data shows, the management of wastes, both hazardous and MSW, is intrinsically connected to national and state economies, and like other goods and services, should not be restricted by federal or state laws.
Edward Repa is the director, environmental programs at the National Solid Wastes Management Association.