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Red, White & You - Part IRed, White & You - Part I

February 1, 2002

15 Min Read
Red, White & You - Part I

Kim A. O'Connell

How your state handles solid waste and recycling.

In the 21st century, curbside recycling is no longer enough. According to a survey of all 50 states' waste management plans, the vast majority of states now are looking to expand their recycling programs to include more yard waste, construction and demolition (C&D) debris and other special waste categories such as tires and electronics.

In those states east of the Mississippi River, with their many crowded industrial centers, two of the main concerns are reducing the toxicity of waste and slowing the rate at which municipal solid waste (MSW) is generated. Some states, such as Connecticut, have set up programs to find end-uses for toxic materials such as mercury-containing lamps. Other states, namely Kentucky and Georgia, increasingly are concerned with providing economic incentives to recycle, including pay-as-you-throw programs.

Source reduction now is a key component in most states' waste programs. Although source reduction remains difficult to measure, several states are beginning to track this information, based on economic models and general waste and recycling trends.

Massachusetts, for example, contracted with the Tellus Institute, Boston, in 1999 to create a model for measuring source reduction. According to the Tellus formula, source reduction equals the expected waste generation minus actual waste generation for any given year. This is based on the premise that waste generation is closely linked to the economy. As the economy grows, waste generation increases, and vice versa. Expected waste generation is determined by multiplying a reliable economic figure (such as the gross state product) by the waste generation rate of a baseline year.

Other states increasingly are estimating source reduction activities and are likely to include this information in future solid waste management plans.

Furthermore, although landfill capacity does not appear to be as pressing an issue as it was in the 1990s, mainly because of the proliferation of larger regional landfills, providing and extending disposal capacity remains a priority for several states in the East as well.

It should be noted that direct comparison between states is difficult because of differences in reporting (such as cubic yards vs. tons), variances in reporting years (calendar year 1998 vs. fiscal year 2001, for example), each state's definition of recycling (such as whether composting is included) and other factors.


Of Alabama's 185 permitted landfills, most are devoted to C&D debris. The state currently has 98 C&D landfills, 58 industrial landfills and 29 MSW landfills. Approximately 4.7 million tons of waste were disposed in the state's MSW landfills during fiscal year 2001. About 541,000 tons of waste, in addition to 2.6 million cubic yards (landfills can report their volume in cubic yards or tons), were disposed of in C&D landfills.


Of all its waste management goals, reducing the toxicity of solid waste is the most important priority for Connecticut. The state is working to develop programs to recycle or properly dispose of wastes that contribute to toxicity, such as consumer electronics mercury-containing lamps.

Other efforts focus on source reduction. In 1999, the average waste disposal rate was 0.73 tons per capita per year. The state has set a goal of reducing the solid waste disposal rate to 0.61 tons per capita per year by 2020. The state also plans to expand existing composting programs to deal with residential organic waste and yard waste.


Yard waste is the centerpiece of Delaware's efforts to boost recycling. Currently, several municipalities operate small leaf-composting operations. At the state's three MSW landfills, separated loads of yard waste may be allowed a lower tipping fee, and the state is experimenting with mixing yard waste with soil or soil substitutes for use as landfill covers.

Approximately 830,000 tons of MSW and C&D waste are disposed of annually in the state's landfills. One industrial landfill accepts about 300,000 tons of C&D waste per year. The state is planning an education program to boost its recycling rate from 20 percent to 30 percent.

District of Columbia

As part of its Clean City Initiative, Washington, D.C., has cracked down on illegal dumping. The city's Environmental Crimes Unit has created an award of up to $500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of an illegal dumper. In August 2001, the unit arrested a local waste hauler for illegally dumping C&D debris at a vacant lot.

The city still has a ways to go before reaching its 45 percent diversion goal — in 2000, only 15 percent of the city's waste was recycled. The city plans to continue efforts to boost recycling, including annual “collection days” for household hazardous waste.


In recent years, Florida's diversion rate has taken a tumble: In 1998, the statewide recycling rate dropped from 38 percent in 1997 to 28 percent. Although state government attributes the change to more accurate reporting procedures, it acknowledges that landfilling has steadily increased. In 1998, 14.1 million tons of waste were landfilled, 6.9 million tons were recycled and 3.8 million tons were combusted. Florida has the largest capacity in the nation to burn waste for fuel, with 13 waste-to-energy facilities.

Future efforts will focus on encouraging recycling market development and toxic waste reduction.


One of the main challenges facing Georgia is providing adequate economic incentives to recycle. The continuing abundance of landfill capacity in the state, combined with relatively low tipping fees, makes disposal an attractive option for many customers. As a result, 16 counties and 13 cities have implemented pay-as-you-throw programs. These programs have proven most successful when they replace a flat fee for solid waste collection, giving residents some control over how much they pay.

Future plans for the state include increasing recycling rates, targeting special waste streams such as C&D debris and promoting the market for scrap tires.


Although landfilling still dominates Illinois's waste management strategy, the state's recycling program is increasing. In 1999, 15.3 million tons of MSW were generated and approximately 5.3 million tons were recycled. This represents a 35 percent recycling rate, a significant bump up from 28 percent in 1998.

Composting is a major component of the state's recycling program as well. In 1999, the state processed more than 357,000 tons of landscape wastes, compared to just more than 335,000 tons in 1998. In the future, the state predicts fewer landfills, with larger capacities, and more transfer of waste out of the metro Chicago area into Indiana and other Illinois areas.


In 2000, more than 13 million tons of waste were disposed in Indiana's landfills. More than 70 percent of this waste ended up in municipal landfills, with 27 percent headed for restricted waste sites, and approximately 1 percent each going to C&D sites and nonmunicipal landfills. Indiana imports a significant amount of out-of-state waste — 1.6 million tons in 2000 — most of which comes from the Chicago area.

The state has implemented several programs designed to help it reach its 50 percent waste diversion goal. Current diversion stands at about 35 percent. Ongoing outreach efforts consist of providing grants to local governments and public education.


Illegal dumpers are finding few places to hide their trash in Kentucky. Between 1993 and 2000, the state cleaned up a total of 16,257 illegal dumps. In that time, the number of households participating in residential collection increased by 25.8 percent, resulting in much more trash being legally disposed as well. In addition, during the past 10 years, the state's Waste Tire Trust Fund has expended $9.5 million to pay for the recycling of 8 million waste tires.

Future goals include establishing a MSW reduction goal of 30 percent by 2010, a funding mechanism to supplement solid waste planning programs and the installation of solid waste coordinators in all counties.


Although more MSW is being recycled in Maine than ever before, the state's recycling rate has dropped from 42 percent in 1997 to just over 40 percent in 1999. This is because the rate of waste generation continues to rise. In 1999, the state generated 1.6 million tons of waste. Still, the state enjoys a higher recycling rate than most states.

In the future, the state plans to increase the amount of recycling grants devoted to composting and the recycling of C&D debris. The state also is examining several methods to reduce toxic waste — including manufacturer take-back programs, periodic collection events and permanent collection facilities.


Maryland enjoys a particularly successful recycling program. In 2000, 4.4 million tons of materials were recycled and composted in the state, representing 33 percent and 5.6 percent of the waste stream, respectively. Altogether, the state managed 9.8 million tons of municipal and construction waste. Only 32 percent of waste was landfilled, with 11.7 percent being incinerated and the rest exported or awaiting processing.

Seven Maryland counties, representing 54 percent of all Marylanders, took advantage of Maryland's Source Reduction Credit program, adding to the waste diversion rate through such activities as home composting and materials exchanges.


In only 10 years, Massachusetts's recycling rate has nearly quadrupled, standing now at 38 percent. Yet MSW generation in the state has continued to steadily increase. Between 1998 and 1999, the amount of solid waste generation went from 7.93 million tons to 8.14 million tons, which amounts to 7.06 pounds per person per day.

The state has three main waste management goals that it aims to reach by 2010: reducing the quantity and toxicity of waste; disposing of only residuals from recycling effort; and ensuring that waste handling facilities are environmentally sound.


The amount of total waste disposed in Michigan continues to grow, with help from the state's neighbor to the north, Canada. Total waste disposed in Michigan landfills in fiscal year 1999 was 56.15 million cubic yards. Of that total, Canada sent 4.2 million cubic yards to Michigan landfills that year. Combined with other states, total out-of-state waste imports represented 16.7 percent of all solid waste disposed of in Michigan.

The state has a multifaceted recycling program, with a special emphasis on end-markets for recycled-content materials. To this end, the Great Lakes state maintains a searchable online Materials Market Directory and a Michigan Materials Exchange Service.


In 1997, Mississippi generated about 2.4 million tons of waste, but recycled only about 13 percent of that amount. Still, the state is working hard to increase recycling and pollution prevention efforts, including ongoing work by Keep Mississippi Beautiful/People Against Litter, based in Jackson. Among the group's memorable education efforts is the “Going Topless in Mississippi is a Crime!” program, which encouraged refuse truck drivers to place tarps over their loads.

New Hampshire

The relatively small, Northeast state of New Hampshire estimates that it has about 6,000 generators of hazardous waste. As a result, New Hampshire's waste management plan centers on reducing toxicity in the state's waste stream. In 1999, the state collected more than 500,000 pounds of household hazardous waste and estimates that about 57 percent of hazardous waste is recycled.

Although overall solid waste recycling is growing, the state diverts only about 27 percent to 30 percent of its waste — 10 percentage points or more off its 40 percent diversion goal. Pay-as-you-throw programs and financial incentives are the main tools the state plans to use to boost its diversion rate.

New Jersey

New Jersey has placed a major emphasis on pollution prevention, reducing toxic waste and promoting the recycling of industrial wastes. In the early 1990s, there were about 6,000 known contaminated sites in New Jersey. By 2000, the number had grown, but more than 12,000 contaminated sites had been remediated. The vast majority of sites — 88 percent — were cleaned up. Mercury emissions from municipal waste incinerators have dropped from more than 4,000 pounds a year in the early 1990s to less than 300 pounds by the year 2000.

In 1997, of the 16 million tons of solid waste produced, 10 million tons were recycled.

New York

New York's recycling program covers almost every type of waste — from scrap tires to old license plates. As of 1998, the state enjoyed a 42 percent recycling rate, which the state attributes to various recycling incentive programs. That year, New York residents and businesses generated 29.7 million tons of waste, of which 12.6 million tons were recycled.

The state plans to emphasize source reduction, including such efforts as grass recycling and home composting. In addition, the state now is overseeing plans for the post-closure care and end-use design of New York City's Fresh Kills landfill.

North Carolina

Nature wreaked havoc on North Carolina in 1999, dramatically increasing the amount of waste generated. That year, hurricanes Dennis and Floyd created approximately 330,000 tons of MSW and C&D waste. C&D debris accounts for about 29 percent of the state's solid waste stream.

Despite the boom in C&D debris, the recovery of traditional recyclables has dropped annually since fiscal year 1995-1996. In 1999, the recycling rate was only 11 percent. The state says that recycling can be improved by adding new recycling processing facilities, implementing a public recycling education program and emphasizing source reduction.


In 1999, Ohioans generated a whopping 16 pounds of solid waste (municipal solid waste and other wastes) per person per day — for a total of 33 million tons of solid waste. This represents a per capita increase of about 3 pounds per person per day since 1995. Although landfill capacity is no longer a major concern for the state, with more than 20 years remaining, Ohio still has focused on expanding its recycling program and expanding the state's recycling infrastructure. The state's current recycling rate stands at about 39 percent.

Future plans include finding end-uses for scrap tires, yard waste and other special waste materials.


In 1999, Pennsylvania achieved a recycling rate of 32.6 percent, not too far off its goal of 35 percent diversion by 2003. Twelve of 67 counties exceeded the 35 percent recycling goal in 1999.

Recycling is a key factor in the state's economy. In Pennsylvania, 3,247 recycling and reuse businesses employ 81,322 people, with an annual payroll of nearly $2.9 billion. State governments have rewritten contracts to specify products with recycled content. Pennsylvania's future efforts will promote home composting, pay-as-you-throw programs and anti-litter campaigns.

Rhode Island

For such a small state, Rhode Island has undertaken several initiatives to reduce the amount of waste generated and disposed in landfills. For example, the Southern New England Materials Exchange is a free service provided by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. to create a link between businesses that have a surplus of waste materials and businesses that may have a use for them. The corporation, a public agency based in the city of Johnston, also helps residents to recycle items including computers, Christmas trees and residential needles. The state currently has a recycling rate of about 28 percent.

South Carolina

South Carolina makes sure its tires have a second career — usually used as chips for septic tank drain fields or as crumb rubber for paving projects. The state has encouraged local governments to make tire recycling more accessible to the general public by offering collection at county drop-off centers.

On average, each South Carolinian generates 4.2 pounds of waste per day. In FY 2000, the state collected 8.7 million tons of recyclables and, of that total, recycled 1.4 million tons of MSW. The state includes only certain recyclables when calculating its recycling rate, which it puts at 31.4 percent.


After working on their cars, Tennesseans have nearly 600 active used oil collection centers at which to drop their used oil. Recycling household hazardous waste is a major priority for the state. In 1996, collection events resulted in the proper disposal or reuse of some 553 tons of household hazardous wastes.

Between 1989 and 1996, Tennessee communities reduced their overall solid waste disposal by 22 percent. In 1996, Tennesseans landfilled 5.1 million tons of waste — the equivalent of 5.25 pounds per person per day. The state's recycling rate increased from 35 percent in 1995 to 37 percent that year. Other priorities include cleaning up contaminated sites and underground storage tanks.


Source reduction and recycling are central to waste management in Vermont, which had, until recently, a goal to reduce 40 percent of its waste. In 1999, the state was well on its way toward that goal, diverting 192,976 tons, or 34.6 percent of the waste stream. Just over 364,200 tons were disposed, 90 percent of it in landfills. The state is now revising its goal to achieve 50 percent waste diversion by 2005. Critical issues for the future include reducing waste through source reduction and recycling, reducing illegal disposal and toxicity and monitoring disposal capacity. The state will also work to develop local and regional end-markets for Vermont recyclables.


Although Virginia still received 3.8 million tons of out-of-state waste in 2000 — out of 21.7 million tons processed that year — the amount of waste originating elsewhere appears to be dropping. Of all solid waste managed in Virginia, 80.71 percent was landfilled, 14.23 percent was incinerated and the rest was managed by other means. The recycling rate in 2000 was approximately 29 percent.

The state continues to provide technical and financial assistance to boost recycling efforts and to promote the recycling and reuse of special waste materials such as scrap tires. Cleanup of the Virginia's tire piles has reached 60 percent, but 369 piles remain, containing about 7.7 million tires.

West Virginia

The reuse and beneficial end-use of materials is the centerpiece of West Virginia's waste management program. A Solid Waste Management Board maintains a materials exchange, and the state also has implemented a recycling assistance grant program. In 1996, the state also started a Wood Waste Market Development project, which has helped to create markets for products made from wood residue.


Landfilling is still the main waste management activity in Wisconsin, but the state also recycles and composts a full 36 percent of its waste. In the past decade, the state estimates that it has diverted 11.6 million tons of waste from landfills and incinerators.

In the future, Wisconsin plans to diversify its facilities to allow for a one-stop waste processing, such as incorporating a composting operation at a landfill. The state also plans to encourage more manufacturer responsibility for reducing toxicity in products and for finding end-uses for those products.

Kim O'Connell is a Waste Age contributing editor based in Arlington, Va.

Part II of this report, which includes analysis of states west of the Mississippi, will be featured in an upcoming issue.

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