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Wisconsin has made significant strides in reducing landfill deposits over the past 14 years, according to research from the Wisconsin Policy Forum. In 2007, 11 million tons of trash found its way into state landfills, with approximately 2 million tons originating from other states. By 2021, this figure had dropped to 8.2 million tons, with just 315,000 tons coming from out-of-state sources.
September 5, 2023
Wisconsin has made significant strides in reducing landfill deposits over the past 14 years, according to research from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
In 2007, 11 million tons of trash found its way into state landfills, with approximately 2 million tons originating from other states. By 2021, this figure had dropped to 8.2 million tons, with just 315,000 tons coming from out-of-state sources.
Changes in state landfill fees, economic recessions and a growing commitment to waste reduction by industries, governments and individuals drove this decline of 24.9 percent between 2007 and 2021, according to the Forum.
"At the state level, the volume of trash has diminished over time due to factors including a reduction in out-of-state trash due to increased fees, changes in consumer and industry practices to reduce waste, and the loss of some industry," the report stated.
One of the pivotal drivers of this shift was a significant increase in tipping fees. In a budget move during 2007-09, Wisconsin legislators doubled the fee on non-industrial trash, raising it from $5.90 to $13 per ton.
This policy change took effect in October 2009, causing a drop in landfill deposits, particularly for out-of-state trash.
"Overall, Wisconsinites are generating and receiving less trash, and that has significant benefits," the report stated. "However, this trend may result in diminishing or at least relatively stagnant revenues for the state environmental fund over time. Policymakers could seek to address that with increased fees, but such a step could lead to further reductions in landfill deposits, as the data in this brief show. While that outcome might be beneficial in many ways, it would blunt any potential revenue increase from the bump in fees."
Between 2000 and 2008, Wisconsin's landfills received an average of 1.7 million tons of out-of-state trash annually, constituting 19 percent of the state's total waste at its peak in 2004. However, since the fee increase in 2009, these deliveries fell to less than 441,000 tons per year, contributing to the decline in landfill deposits.
Changes in Illinois policy and its solid waste industry also played a role in Wisconsin's landfill deposit trends.
In 2003, Illinois increased its state solid waste fee, increasing out-of-state waste being trucked to Wisconsin. However, substantial fee hikes in Wisconsin reversed this trend, leaving landfill deposits lower than in 2002.
Local governments in Wisconsin spend approximately $450 million annually on trash and recycling, accounting for 7 percent of total spending. Most of these costs are funded through user fees, property taxes and state aid for recycling.
When landfills reach capacity, it poses challenges for municipalities. Finding space for new landfills can be contentious and expensive. Landfill operators must demonstrate the financial capacity to cover closure costs, making long-term planning critical.
"Landfills also affect property values and development potential," the report stated. "Their distribution tends to mirror that of the state’s population and industrial centers. As a result, finding space for new landfills can be difficult."
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