Transferring Loads

CONGRESS HAS REFUSED to put the brakes on shipments of municipal solid waste (MSW) since the late 1980s. Consequently, there has been a growing interest in statistics about how much waste is crossing state borders, and which states would be most affected by proposed restrictive legislation. To tally the MSW being imported and exported, the Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Research Service(CRS) recently published “Interstate Shipment of Municipal Solid Waste: 2004 Update.”

The report notes that interstate MSW disposal increased 11 percent from 2001 to 2003, bringing the total to 39 million tons. Since CRS began tracking waste shipments in the early 1990s, imports have increased 170 percent.

Pennsylvania is the largest waste importer, accounting for 23 percent of the national total, according to the report. Although the state received 9.1 million tons last year, mostly from New York and New Jersey, imports have declined the past two years by 1.5 million tons, the report states.

The decline can be explained by two factors, the first of which is Pennsylvania's enactment of a new $5 per ton waste disposal fee, which may have forced haulers to look elsewhere for disposal. Also, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made a goal to ship all of the Big Apple's waste by rail for disposal, and Pennsylvania has no rail-accessible landfills, according to CRS.

The second-largest importer, Virginia, imported nearly 5.5 million tons of MSW in 2003. Unlike Pennsylvania, Virginia has seen sharp increases — 1.4 million tons — in trash imports since 2001. The state has repeatedly tried to restrict out-of-state trash, but its restrictions have been declared unconstitutional and struck down, the report says. Attempts have included banning waste shipments on river barges, truck regulations that apply only to waste haulers and limits on the amount of waste landfills can accept daily.

Michigan has been another high-profile importing state — 62 percent of the out-of-state waste buried in Michigan comes from Ontario, Canada. Since early 2003, the Toronto area has not had local disposal sites, and nearly all of the waste now is being sent to Michigan, the closest U.S. neighbor, CRS reports.

Five states — New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Illinois and Maryland — account for 54 percent of the nation's waste exports. New York's exports rose by 754,000 tons from 2001 to 2003, reflecting the effect of closing New York City's last disposal site, Fresh Kills Landfill.

In all, 10 states reported imports exceeding 1 million tons per year. In 2003, Indiana dropped below the 1 million mark for the first time since 1995. Ohio saw a 1.5-million-ton increase between 1998 and 2003, and the state appears to be ready for an even larger increase in the coming years. Ohio has prepared draft permits that would allow landfill capacity to grow by 176 million tons, according to the congressional report.

A total of 22 states had exports exceeding 100,000 tons, CRS states. Twenty-two states, plus the District of Columbia, were net exporters. Interestingly, 23 states have exports and imports each in excess of 100,000 tons. CRS explains this trend by noting that in larger states, areas with limited disposal space might be closer to landfills in another state.

CRS says interstate waste hauling also can be explained by the consolidation and regionalization of the waste industry as a whole. Large firms such as Waste Management Inc., Houston, for instance, often will dispose of waste in company-owned landfills in an adjoining state, rather than pay additional fees to dispose of trash locally in a facility owned by a rival.

For more information on the CRS report, visit


State/Territory Tons of MSW
1. New York 8,247,610
2. New Jersey 5,803,184
3. Ontario, Canada 2,922,473
4. Missouri 2,334,511
5. Illinois 2,097,407


State Tons of MSW
1. Pennsylvania 9,155,638
2. Virginia 5,489,170
3. Michigan 4,503,218*
4. Ohio 2,541,074
5. Illinois 1,880,865

*from 10/1/2002 to 9/30/2003