Tip Off, The

For about 15 years, the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), Washington, D.C., has been collecting data on landfill and incinerator tipping fees, as well as on remaining landfill disposal capacity. Following is a summary of the findings for 2000.

Landfill Capacity

Landfill capacity is dependent on use (i.e. daily waste intake). Any changes to the way a state or locality manages its waste could affect landfill capacity in another area. Nevertheless, today's snapshot shows that state landfill capacity generally has increased over the past 14 years. However, landfill capacity shrunk in some states.

In the 1986 to 1991 timeframe, 13 states — Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia — reported less than 5 years of capacity.

Today, only two states (Hawaii and Vermont) have less than five years of capacity. Vermont was the only state that consistently reported less than 5 years of capacity during the 14-year period.

In 2000, only five states (Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont) reported less than 10 years of landfill capacity. The remaining states reported having more than 10 years of capacity. Nevada reported the greatest landfill capacity with 66 years, while Vermont and Hawaii had the least capacity with three years or less.

National landfill disposal capacity follows the same trends as the state capacity data. In the late 1980s, the national disposal capacity was approximately 11 years. By the mid-1990s however, national disposal capacity increased to about 14 years and presently stands at more than 18 years.

If a state increases its recycling rates, landfill capacity likely will increase. Conversely, if waste shipped out-of-state for disposal can no longer be exported, in-state landfill capacity will decease in some states.

Additionally, if ongoing research on bioreactor landfills results in full-scale operation at facilities, capacity could increase because waste decomposition would be accelerated, creating more space at the site. Landfill mining also would restore capacity at landfills.

Tipping Fees

The tipping fees for the year 2000 were gathered from 570 privately owned or operated facilities, and represent the spot market price for municipal solid waste disposal. The number of facilities covered represents an almost 800 percent increase over the number represented in 1982, when less than 65 landfills were surveyed. Consequently, comparisons and conclusions drawn between older and newer data may not accurately represent actual conditions.

Instead, the historical national average tipping fees were recalculated based on weighted averages for the number of facilities represented in each region in the 1995 survey. Tipping fees prior to 1985 were not included in the regional data because these fees could not be normalized. Additionally, other tipping fees exist at landfills (e.g. long-term contracted waste and special wastes) and may vary from the spot market price here.

In 2000, the average national tipping fee was $32.19 per ton, an increase of 1 percent from the 1998 survey. This negates the 1 percent decrease in the national tipping fees observed in 1998, the last time the survey was conducted and when the fees declined for the first time since the NSWMA began tracking figures in 1982. The average national tip fee in 2000 equals the figure reported in 1995, indicating that at the national level, tipping fees have remained relatively constant over the past five years.

Prior to 1998, tipping fees increased about 7 percent per year. The change in the fee from 1985 to 1998 was $23.61 per ton, a nearly 300 percent increase. The largest annual increase occurred between 1986 and 1987, when the tip fee rose $5.29 per ton. The smallest year-to-year increases occurred between 1998 and 2000, when the fee rose only 19 cents per ton per year.

As with the national tipping fees, four of the seven regional tipping fees showed an increase in 2000. The largest increase was in the Northeast, where the fee rose $3.16 per ton, almost 5 percent. This was followed by the Midwest, which reported a tipping fee increase of $2.21 per ton, a 7 percent increase, and then the Mid-Atlantic, whose fees rose $1.73 per ton, a 4 percent increase.

Tipping fees in the West, South and West Central regions declined during this period, with the West showing the largest decline of $1.54 per ton, down 4 percent. As in 1998, the Northeast region had the highest average tipping fees at $69.84 per ton, while the South Central region had the lowest average tipping fees at $21.90 per ton.

Average national tipping fees always have been less at landfills than at incinerators. In 1982, landfill tipping fees were $8.07 per ton, and incinerator tipping fees were $12.91 per ton, a difference of $4.84. This difference has increased every year since then. In 2000, the average landfill tipping fee was $32.19 per ton, while the average incinerator tipping fee was $59.41 per ton, a difference of $27.22.

Edward W. Repa is director of environmental programs for NSWMA, Washington, D.C. For more information or for a complete copy of the report, call Repa at (202) 364-3773. For more information about landfills, visit www.wasteage.com.