Databases and Tools
communities in America are faced with a solid waste disposal problem.
In 2007, we generated 254 million tons of municipal solid waste, an
increase of 24% since 1990. During this same time period, per capita
waste generation has increased only 3%, so much of the total increase
is due to a larger population. In fact, the per capita rate of waste
disposed of (as opposed to generated) has actually decreased
since 1990 by 23% due to improved waste recovery efforts.
two primary types of disposal practices are landfilling and municipal waste
combustion, or incineration.
Landfill Operation. Local governments often own and operate a solid waste landfill
for final disposal of the majority of solid waste generated within
the local government's jurisdiction. Solid waste landfills provide an
engineered facility for the long term containment of solid waste and
include the following activities:
depositing solid waste into the landfill
disease vector populations,
landfill gas production, leachate, and storm water, and
Most landfills include
a large disposal area that contains numerous smaller cells. Solid
waste is deposited in these cells daily, compacted using specially
designed bulldozers, and then generally covered with either a thin
layer of soil or some alternative cover. The local governments
controls the flow of solid waste into the facility to exclude
materials such as hazardous waste or other materials that should be
managed elsewhere or could be recycled to make the landfill safer and
preserve capacity. Once a cell is full it is covered with a final
cover designed to limit infiltration and vector populations, and
provide a base for cover vegetation.
number of landfills in the U.S. has decreased sharply since 1990,
going from 6,326 to 1,754 landfills. Many of the older landfills
closed because they could not meet federal environmental standards
that were promulgated in the early 1990s. The size of the
average landfill, however, has increased. Overall current landfill
capacity is stable, although many communities may face shortages.
solid waste landfills are regulated under Subtitle
D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act passed by
Congress in 1976. In 1991, the U.S. EPA published a supplemental set
Solid Waste Landfill Regulations (MSWLR) which now
serves as the basis for state regulatory and permitting requirements.
Because today's landfills need to operate with unquestioned safety
and efficiency, it often can take five or more years from the time a
site is selected until design, permit application, and public
hearings are completed and the facility is built.
developing the RCRA Subtitle D MSWLF standards, EPA gave a great deal
of consideration to the impacts on local governments. Wherever
possible, EPA made the regulations flexible in order to provide small
communities with relief from some of the more costly technical
Local governments must
monitor groundwater in close proximity to the landfill and employ a
system of pipes that collect methane gas generated as a byproduct of
decomposition. Methane gas has been identified as a significant
greenhouse gas. Facilities that generate sufficient quantities of
methane can recover the landfill gas for use as a source of energy.
Stormwater runoff associated with landfills may also be regulated
under the CWA stormwater provisions.
Landfill operations are
subject to the minimum criteria for municipal solid waste landfills
found at 40
CFR Part 258. These minimum criteria address location
restrictions, operating criteria, design criteria, groundwater
monitoring and corrective action requirements, closure and
post-closure care requirements, and financial assurance criteria.
Where a municipal solid waste landfill subject to this rule does not
meet these requirements, it is considered an open dump, which is
prohibited under §4005 of RCRA.
A local government
could be subject to state permit provisions if their state has
developed its own solid waste permit program under delegated
authority from EPA. Under the Clean Air Act, landfills are subject to
Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) that requires landfill operators, among other requirements to
continuously monitor control devices to ensure compliance with the
operating conditions for landfill gas control systems and prepare and
implement a plan to control toxic air emissions. In addition,
landfills may be regulated under prevention of significant
deterioration (PSD) and non-attainment area (NAA) provisions.
Combustion. An alternative method of managing solid waste is
through combustion. Solid waste 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.
When choosing to employ
municipal combustion, local governments can retrofit existing
facilities, build new facilities, or enter into regional
partnerships. If they are building new facilities, they must site,
design (incorporating elaborate air pollution controls), permit, and
construct the combustion facility. 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 ash. Most new incinerators have the capacity
to recover and reuse the energy released during combustion (the
combustion is regulated primarily under the Clean Air Act regulations
CFR Part 60), which establishes guidelines and
standards of performance for municipal waste combustors, as well as
standards of performance for incinerators.
The 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. Under RCRA,
each facility must determine whether the combined ash constitutes a
hazardous waste and if so, the ash must be managed as a hazardous
waste. Where the ash is not a hazardous waste, it can be managed
under state law, which may allow disposal in a solid waste landfill
or provide for disposal in an ash monofill (or impose other special
The Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures Fact Sheet. Includes various resources for source
reduction, recycling (including composting), and disposal.
EPA Infographic for Municipal Solid Waste.
Resource Locator. Provides links to state solid waste
US Composting Council is a national, non-profit trade and professional organization promoting the recycling of organic materials through composting.
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 courses.
National Waste & Recycling Association. NSWMA 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.
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 programs.
Municipal Solid Waste in the United States (2012).This report released every two years is a key component of EPA's Sustainable Materials Management Program (SMM). SMM is an effort to protect the environment and conserve resources for future generations through a systems approach that seeks to reduce materials use and their associated environmental impacts over their entire life cycles, starting with extraction of natural resources and product design and ending with decisions on recycling or final disposal. This report contains data on:
- MSW generation, recovery, and disposal from 1960 to 2011;
- Per capita generation and discard rates;
- Source reduction (waste prevention);
- Materials and products that are in the waste stream;
- Aggregate data on the infrastructure for MSW management, including estimates of the number of curbside recycling programs, composting programs, and landfills in the US; and
- Trends in MSW management from 1960 to 2011, including source reduction, recycling and composting, and disposal via combustion and landfilling.
Municipal Solid Waste Publications. Includes free
publications available directly on-line and via on-line ordering.
Waste and Recycling for Dummies. Comprehensive overview of the waste and recycling industry, compiling insights from subject matter experts on topics including recycling, landfilling, composting, waste-to-energy conversion, and the impacts of waste management on human health and the environment. Note: users must submit their email address to receive access.
Databases and Tools
Comprehesive Procurement Guidelines (CPG): Guidelines to help businesses purchase recycled materials, including recommendations for recycled-content levels for CPG items.
Tools for Local Government Recycling Programs: Provides tools and information for local governments and community leaders seeking to create or maintain a residential recycling program.
Product Stewardship: This website highlights the latest developments in product stewardship and provides numerous links to other sources of information.