in America face challenges in managing solid waste. In 2018, we generated 292.4
million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), an increase of 40% since 1990. Per
capita waste generation also increased by 7% during this same period. Yet, management
of MSW has changed substantially, with recycling and composting increasing from
16% in 1990 to 32.1% in 2018. Over the long-term, landfilling of waste
decreased from 94% of waste generated in 1960 to 50% of the amount generated in
2018, and waste combustion has increased from 0 to 12% over the same time
The two primary
types of disposal practices are landfilling and municipal waste combustion, or incineration. Waste
transfer stations are facilities
where municipal waste is unloaded from collection vehicles and re-loaded onto
larger transport vehicles to be taken to a disposal site. Compliance
obligations are defined primarily by state laws, within a framework of federal
requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Clean
Air Act (CAA).
governments often own and operate a solid waste landfill for final disposal and
long-term containment of the majority of solid waste. The number of landfills
in the U.S. has decreased by about 75% over the past 30 years, from ~7,900 in
1988 to ~1,300 in 2018. The size of the average landfill, however, has
The two most
common methods for depositing waste into landfills are the area fill and trench
methods. In the area fill method, waste is placed in a large open section of a
lined landfill and then spread and compacted in uniform layers using heaving
equipment. In the trench method, which is more expensive and therefore less
common, waste is placed into a trench and the material excavated to dig the
trench is used as daily cover. Cover material must be applied on top of the
waste mass at the end of each day as required under Subtitle D of RCRA.
under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Subtitle D of RCRA
prohibits open dumps and required landfills not meeting specified minimum
requirements to close. The Municipal Solid Waste Landfill Regulations (MSWLR) serve as the basis for state regulatory and permitting
requirements for landfills operating on or after October 9, 1993.
under Subtitle D of RCRA cover
six aspects of landfill management
Location criteria: suitable
geological areas away from airports, floodplains, wetlands, fault areas,
seismic impact zones and other unstable areas;
for cover material, disease vector and explosive gas control systems, air,
access, run-on/run-off control and surface water, liquids and recordkeeping;
Design: requirements for composite
liners constructed to maintain less than a 30cm depth of leachate over the
requirements for systems to determine whether waste materials have escaped from
the landfill and appropriate corrective measures
Closure and post-closure care: requirements for systems to control and clean up landfill
releases and achieve groundwater protection standards; and
Financial assurance: provides
funding for environmental protection during and after landfill closure.
(receiving no more than an average of 20 tons of solid waste per day annually)
may be exempt from the design, groundwater monitoring and corrective action requirements
if: there is no evidence of groundwater contamination; the landfill is located
in an area with less than 25 inches of precipitation annually; and the
community has no other practicable solid waste disposal alternative.
management is considered primarily local in nature: EPA sets general
performance criteria; once it has approved state regulations, management and
enforcement is principally a state concern.
under the Clean Air Act (CAA). As waste in
landfills decomposes, it produces landfill gas, including carbon dioxide, air
toxics and methane a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential
more than 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Most landfills must report
greenhouse gas emissions annually pursuant to 40
CFR 98 Subpart HH.
EPA issued updates
to the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS)
and Emission Guidelines (EGs)
in 2016 to address and reduce methane emissions. The NSPS apply to new,
modified and reconstructed MSW landfills, while the EGs apply to existing MSW
landfills. Only landfills that have certain levels of waste design capacity and
emissions are subject to the rules. Both rules require regulated landfills to
install and operate the best available gas collection and control systems once
they meet certain thresholds of landfill gas emissions. While some compliance
dates were deferred in 2019, in 2021 a federal court remanded the deferral to
EPA for further reconsideration. On May 10, 2021, EPA adopted
rules for landfills in states and Indian country
where EPA-approved state plans or tribal plans for methane are not currently in
landfills are also subject to the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) (40
CFR Part 63 Subpart WWWW), which require
landfill operators to develop plans to control toxic air emissions during
start-up, malfunction and shutdown of the landfill; continuously monitor gas
control devices; comply with reporting requirements; and take certain steps to
reduce toxic air emissions from bioreactor operations. Landfills may also be
regulated under prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) and
non-attainment area (NAA) provisions under the CAA.
under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Landfills may
also be required to obtain industrial stormwater permits under CWA regulations
CFR 122.26(b)(14)(v)), which require
development of a written stormwater pollution prevention plan and
implementation of control measures.
combustion involves the incineration of all or a portion of the solid
wastestream in specially designed solid waste combustion facilities and the
disposal of the residual ash in landfills. Most new incinerators have the
capacity to recover and reuse the energy released during combustion (the
"waste-to-energy" process). In 2017, the US combusted over 34 million
tons of MSW with energy recovery.
governments can retrofit existing facilities, build new facilities or enter
into regional partnerships. Building new facilities requires incorporating
elaborate air pollution controls. Once a combustion facility is in place, the
local government must ensure its proper operation, provide a relatively
constant flow of waste as a feedstream and manage and dispose of the residual
under CAA. 40 CFR Part 60 establishes guidelines and
standards of performance for municipal waste combustors, as well as standards
of performance for incinerators. The New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for
new units and Emission Guidelines (EGs) for existing units are addressed by
different regulations for small (subparts AAAA and BBBB), large municipal waste combustion units (subparts Cb, Ea and Eb), and other units (subpart EEEE and FFFF). The rules require implementation of maximum achievable control
technology and impose stringent emissions limits for organics, metals and acid
gases. In addition, states that are home to regulated units must also either
submit implementation plans under Part 62 subparts FFF and JJJ, or comply with Federal Plan requirements. Other NESHAP and NSPS
requirements for major source boiler and process heaters and internal
combustion engines may also apply.
under RCRA. Disposal of residual ash from
the combustion of municipal waste, including fly ash and bottom ash, is
regulated under RCRA and state laws. Generally, these two types of ash are
combined and then disposed in either a municipal landfill or a special ash landfill.
Because ash may contain toxic materials, it must be sampled and analyzed
regularly to determine whether it is hazardous. Hazardous ash must be managed
and disposed of as hazardous waste.
information and resources helpful for municipal solid waste management,
implements the Subtitle D solid waste program, which includes minimum standards
that are carried out primarily by state programs, and issues and updates
regulations governing air and water pollution associated with municipal solid
waste landfills and combustion units.
Municipal Waste Combustors (MWC) - Large
Units. Requirements for managing particulate matter, carbon monoxide, dioxins/furans, sulfur
dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen chloride, lead, mercury and cadmium from combustors
of greater than 250 tons MSW per day.
Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP). Information to help waste officials reduce or avoid methane
emissions from landfills. LMOP encourages the recovery and beneficial use of
biogas generated from organic municipal solid waste.
Reference. Short guide on Regulations
Affecting Landfills and Landfill Gas Projects.
the federal criteria for operating municipal solid waste landfills and may set
more stringent requirements, including permit requirements. Absent an approved
state program, the federal requirements must be met by waste facilities.
Council. A national, non-profit
trade and professional organization promoting the recycling of organic
materials through composting.
Solid Waste Association of
North America. SWANA's
mission is "to advance the practice of environmentally and economically
sound management of municipal solid waste." SWANA serves over 8,100
members and thousands more industry professionals with technical conferences,
certifications, publications and a large offering of technical training
National Waste &
Recycling Association. NWRA is a
trade association representing for-profit companies in North America that
provide solid, hazardous and medical waste collection, recycling and disposal
services, and companies that provide professional and consulting services to
the waste services industry.
Association of State and
Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO). An organization supporting the environmental agencies of the states
and trust territories. ASTSWMO focuses on the needs of state hazardous waste
programs; non-hazardous municipal solid waste and industrial waste programs;
sustainability, recycling, waste minimization and reduction programs; Superfund
and state cleanup programs; waste management and cleanup activities at federal
facilities; and underground storage tank and leaking underground storage tank
Municipal Solid Waste in the United States
report, published December 2020, containing data on MSW generation, recycling, combustion, composting and other (food
waste) management; trends in MSW management; MSW material composition; environmental
and economic benefits of recycling and composting; and Construction &
Demolition debris management.
Reducing Contamination in Curbside Recycling Programs. SWANA report discussing the effects of contamination on curbside pick-up programs, including increasing costs and reductions in safety at material recovery facilities. Identifies the key reasons why residents place contaminants in their recycling bins in order to help local governments develop more targeted anti-contamination programs.
Trash Stormwater Permit Compendium. Assists Phase I and Phase II Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit writers in developing trash-related provisions for MS4 permits. Includes example language, best management practices for reducing trash in stormwater and two case studies.
U.S. National Recycling Strategy. First publication in a series from EPA to support the transition to a circular economy. Identifies key actions for the municipal solid waste recycling systems, providing detailed information on improving markets for recycling commodities, increasing collection and improving materials management infrastructure, reducing contamination in material streams, enhancing related policies and programs, standardizing measurement and increasing data collection.
Model Compost Procurement Policy With Commentaries. This model policy created by Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Law Institute can be used by municipalities to encourage or require the use of compost products. The policy is easily adaptable for individual municipalities. Commentary is provided explaining the benefits of key provisions and alternative approaches, as well as links to examples—all of which are intended to help guide stakeholders and policymakers in tailoring the policy to the unique circumstances of their region.
Regulation Navigation Tool. Online
resource to help owners and operators of MSW landfills determine their
personalized requirements by answering successive questions about their
Combustion Portal. Federal and state compliance information for combustion
ReFED Insights Engine. Online data hub for food waste insights. Includes academic studies, industry papers, case studies and financial analyses for more than 40 food waste reduction solutions.
EPA Model Recycling Program Toolkit. Contains materials to help local governments, Tribes and other institutions create effective programs for recycling, composting, anaerobic digestion, reuse, repair and waste reduction. The Toolkit can help communities increase participation in recycling programs and reduce contamination in the recycling stream.