Solid Waste Disposal to Landfill Fees
Solid waste disposal is a problem in many countries, prompting many governments to put in place measures aimed at managing the problem. Like the rest of the world, the US continues to battle with the problem of solid waste disposal. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US generated thereabouts of 251 million tons of trash in 2012 (1). The composition of most solid waste in the U.S. is mostly items thrown away after their use. The items here include food waste, grass clippings, packaging, computers and tires among others (EPA 2). Most of this waste comes from residential waste, commercial and institutional locations including schools, hospitals and businesses. All these sources, however, produce a diverse range of material composition of the waste. EPA informs that organic materials continue to form the bulk of the municipal solid wastes. These include items such as paper, paperboards, yard trimmings and food waste (EPA 4). Accordingly, the percentage in material composition of the municipal solid waste stands at 28 percent for food wastes and yard trimmings, while paper and paperboards account for 27 percent of the waste (EPA 4). Further, plastics account for 13 percent of the waste; metals 9 percent; rubber, leather and textile 9 percent; wood 6 percent; glass 5 percent; while other miscellaneous account for 3 percent of municipal solid waste (see figure 1 for material composition of municipal solid waste) (EPA 4). The amount of waste produced by individuals is in the area of 2 kilograms a day, constituting more waste than it is possible to dispose of in an environmentally and economic manner. Landfills, therefore, have been the solution for solid waste disposal in the US for a long time. However, landfills are fast being depleted. Moreover, there are no spaces to open new landfills given the increasingly popular affluent suburbs, most of which hold the “Not-In-My-Back-Yard” perception of landfills. The result of these new developments has been an increase in the waste disposal fees, with a threatening waste crisis.
Total municipal solid waste generation by material (EPA 5).
However, while there has been a surge in the search for space for landfills in the US, the situation is different in other countries such as the UK. The country (UK) has seen a marked decrease in demand for landfill, while there has been an increase in demand for other waste treatment and disposal alternatives (Talbot 16). According to Talbot, landfill tax and the motivation towards maximization of the value of tax by waste management operators in the UK, along with better waste separation and treatment methods have led to the declining demand for landfills.
The history of landfills interestingly goes to the early days of Industrial Revolution. During the first millennium of the Industrial Revolution, waste volumes were comparatively small. The maxim at this time was the simple “dilute and disperse” that prevailed. Thus, most cities and industries had their locations situated near rivers, which acted as sources of water for domestic and industrial use. These rivers were additionally the easiest means of transport for people and goods, while at the same time they provided the easiest path for the removal of wastes dumped in them. Nevertheless, with the expanding urban and industrial centers came the discovery that the “dilute and disperse” axiom had become obsolete with noticeable suffering of sight and smell from the degradation and increasing health concerns. This was largely due to the increased production of municipal solid waste (MSW), which therefore exacerbated the unsightly of the “dilute and disperse” maxim (See figure 2 for MSW generation rates between 1960 and 2012).
Figure 2. MSW generation 1962-2012 (EPA 1)
These concerns gave way to a new waste disposal maxim that aimed at “concentrating and containing” the waste at a local point in an expensive manner. Initially, open dumps became the method of choice for the waste disposal. The dumps quickly gave way to landfills. The smell, unsightliness, contamination of air, soil and water and attraction of vermin, which posed a health risk, occasioned the replacement of the dumps by the landfills. Thus, although landfills still dominate the U.S. waste disposal scene, there have been improvements in the development of alternative waste management. Known as the integrated waste management approach, the approach focuses on the three Rs of waste management namely recycling, reusing and resource reduction (Wallace n.p.).
The adoption of the integrated waste management approach in the US began early with several federal laws and regulations passed to control landfills. Curious however is the fact that the U.S. has no national landfill tax or fee. The setting up of the fees and tax is the discretion of individual states, most of which have their own laws and regulations that set up landfill fees and taxes. One such state is California, where any disposal to the landfills by individuals or commercial haulers is subject to some fees (CalRecycle 2).
The fees and taxes charged on landfills in California are the responsibility of cities and counties, in addition to the state. Having passed the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, the legislation authorized the state to charge a fee on the landfills. This fee, charged at $1.40 per ton with effect from 2012 was a consolidation kitty towards the funding of the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), also known as CalRecycle (CalRecycle 4). Currently, however, different landfills have varying charges for municipal solid waste and green waste. According to CalRecycle, the median charges for municipal solid waste stands at $45 per ton, while green waste attract $39 per ton as the median charges for deposits in the landfills.
Through the history of the US and California, data by CalRecycle indicate a consistency in the amount charged as landfill tipping fees for individuals and commercial haulers. The national average in tipping fees remained relatively consistent through 1995 and 2004 (CalRecycle 35). The fees, however, increased $1.62 year on year between 2004 and 2010, largely due to the increasing fuel cost during those years. CalRecycle continues to inform that the landfill tipping fees have been on the increase over the past 20 years. With an average of between $30 and $35 per ton in the years 1995-2000, the tipping fees have seen an increase. This increase did not however stop as between 2010 and 2013, the average tipping fees in California stood at an average of $52 to $54 per ton. Over the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, California saw an average increase of $17 for landfill tipping fees. This is an average of $1.70 per year over the 10 years, a figure comparable with the $1.62 per ton national average over the 10 years (see figure 3 for California average landfill tipping between 1995 and 2013).
Figure 3. California average landfill tipping Fee 1995-2013 (CalRecycle 36).
In comparison, landfill fees in the UK and the rest of the European Union are largely standardized for each of the countries. The UK introduced its landfill tax in 1997, with £7 per ton as the standard rate charged for active wastes (Talbot 6). At the same time, a standard £2 per ton was set for inactive wastes (less polluting) with the introduction of the landfill tax. The decision to introduce the landfill tax in the UK was a 1994 proposal by Kenneth Clarke, the then Conservative Chancellor (Seely 2). In introducing the tax, the Chancellor argued that the tax would be instrumental in raising money and protecting the environment, without necessarily imposing new costs on businesses (Seely 2).Similarly, the average landfill fees in the European Union countries are relatively higher, with the average fee standing at $100 per ton (CalRecycle 36). Thus, while the average California landfill fee stands at $54 per ton for municipal solid waste, the European Union’s average stands at $125, with a range between $0-215 (CalRecycle 36).
The difference in landfilling fees between the US and the European Union member states including the UK is largely due to the differences in policies between the two entities. While the European Union pursues an ambitious policy directive that focuses on diverting waste from landfills, the US pursues a different policy. Moreover, the European Union has a high rate of recycling; a very different approach from what the US has (CalRecycle 36). The European Union’s policy priorities demand that “2016 each member state should be landfilling only 35 percent of what they landfilled in 1995” (CalRecycle 36). This is distinctively different from the US’ directive, particularly California, whose policy requires jurisdictions to “divert 50 percent of their generated waste by meeting a disposal
target measured as “per capita disposal” (CalRecycle 36).
The state of California additionally may provide diversion credit to jurisdictions using waste as feedstock for energy. The state has however not encouraged this use of waste in the generation of energy (CalRecycle 36). The lack of promotion of the use of waste for energy is however different from the case in the European Union, where waste-to-energy is promoted and is thought to be a useful way of limiting waste reaching the landfills in addition to promoting energy independence (CalRecycle 37). The difference in policy is thus stark given the concentration on reduction, reuse, recycling and composting of waste in California, while the European Union actively encourages and relies on waste-to-energy as an approach to waste management.
The difference in the landfill fees between the US and the European Union is additionally visible through the range in the average landfill fees. Thus, while the US’ range is lower and smaller ($24-$91), the European Union’s is distinctively higher and bigger ($4-$215) (CalRecycle 37). The higher range is the European Union is a direct result of the directive, while a national directive is absent in the US. The Union’s wider range, apart from its attribution to the landfill directive, may also be because of the absence of an imperative to new members to fulfill the landfill directive, and who naturally would have lower fees (CalRecycle 37).
Comparing the landfill fees structure in the US and the European Union presents further distinction between the two entities. The structure of the landfill tax in the UK and the European Union is such that there are only two rates for the tax. At its introduction, the lower rate was at £7 per ton, while the lower rate at £2 per ton (Seely 2; Talbot 10). Over the years, these have increased to £82.60 and £2.60 per ton for the higher and lower rates respectively (Talbot 10). The new rates came to effect in April 2015, with the revisions attributed to have increased in line with inflation (Talbot 10).
The structure of the landfill tax in the US is complex. Thus, apart from the lack of a national directive or standardized fees across the country, the landfill tax regime is complex with different variations. Accordingly, landfill “fees vary by the unique circumstances at each landfill, which can include, among other factors, their regional location, rural or urban location, ownership, annual disposal tonnage, proximity to other landfills, and operational factors” (CalRecycle 40). The difference in the landfill regime in the US has an additional reflection in the California landfill fees and taxes charged by the state, the cities and counties. Given its large size with a diverse composition in demography, climate, political factions and environmental concerns, California also has different landfill fees for all these subdivisions (CalRecycle 40).
Further, the structure of the landfill fees in California has many other factors that affect the cost of using the facilities. CalRecycle inform that among other factors on cost, larger landfills charge lower fees than smaller one. Additionally, landfills with other landfills in their proximity charge relatively lower fees than the remotely located landfills, even as private landfills charge much higher fees than government-owned landfills (CalRecycle 40). To add more, the nature of operation of the landfills is interesting. While privately owned landfills largely operate in the urban areas, government-run landfills have an even distribution across the state, with the exception of the Bay Area (CalRecycle 40).
The difference in structure of the landfill in the US and UK is evidenced by the presence of negotiated fees in California, a happening that is unheard of in the UK and the European Union. In the two (UK and European Union), the fees and tax are set by a legislation; this is however different in the US, where the landfill, city or hauler can negotiate fees (CalRecycle 18; Talbot 10). The negotiated fees last a within a period, with the option of renegotiation at the expiry of the agreed date. The negotiated fees are either lower or higher than the set fees. Most of these negotiated fees are usually lower given the presence of discounts from the landfill operators extended to haulers, cities, other facilities or counties.
The extent of landfill fees is such that it covers cities, counties, haulers and other private users of the landfills. The distribution of the landfills across the state additionally makes the use of the landfills easier given the ease of access of the landfills. Furthermore, the lower fees make the use of landfills more widespread across California and the US. Although many of the cities and counties within California and the US have integrated waste management systems that encourage recycling, reuse and minimization of use, landfills still take the bulk of municipal solid waste.
Waste management and landfill operation involve a lot of players. These range from the producers of the waste in cities, counties and the state to the landfill operators and waste management companies. Important in the whole operation are policy makers who set up the fees and taxes and the guidelines for the charging and collection of the fees. The landfill fees and taxes in operation in the US and the UK are a result of policy makers’ decisions to set up the fees and guidelines for the operation of landfills. Thus, policy makers through the Waste Management Act in the US and the 1996 introduction of the landfill tax in the UK (CalRecycle 18; Talbolt 6) provide a framework for the operation of landfills and other waste management processes. Under this framework, the landfill operators, waste management companies, cities and counties find an avenue for operation.
Cities, counties and the state are an important part of the landfill. These house the consumers who produce the waste for handling. Indeed, the cities, local authorities, counties and the municipalities are the producers of the waste that ends up in the landfills as municipal solid waste as well as other types of wastes. From these producers come the waste management companies. The waste management companies in this case include haulers and landfill operators (CalRecycle 18). Haulers are companies that collect waste from the source and deliver them to the landfills. These form an integral part of the waste management process.
Landfill operators are the final group in waste management. These operators usually pay tax for holding licenses for landfill sites. As aforementioned, landfills are operated by either the government or individuals. Government-owned landfill sites are cheaper than the privately owned sites. While these parties come together to negotiate the prices of landfill fees as well as takes charged in the US, the UK and the rest of the European Union have a fixed tax that is dependent on legislation passed by parliament (Talbot 6).
Landfill tax has proven to be an effective method of reducing environmental pollution during the process of waste disposal. The result of landfill fees and tax are different in the US and UK along other European Union nations. Overall, however, the result of landfill tax has been the investment in alternatives to landfill. In the UK and other European Union nations, the discourse has moved from landfilling to waste recovery. Here, waste recovery includes actions such as compositing, recycling and the recovery of energy from the waste. These are all alternatives to landfilling that most governments continue to discourage (Talbot 7). On the other hand, the US continues to encourage the use of the three Rs or reuse, recycling and reducing. This has encouraged the reduction of waste and recycling. According to EPA, although the US generated 251 million tons in waste in 2012, 87 million of the waste was recycled, representing a 34.5 percent recycling rate (EPA 1).
Landfilling tax and fees have additionally reduced the demand for landfilling, making the sites unprofitable. This is largely because of the increased use of alternative methods of waste disposal, with the result being an extension of the lives of the current operational landfill sites, which are being filled up slower than expected.
Landfill tax and fees have therefore been effective in reducing not only the number of landfills coming up, but also in extending the lives of the existing. Furthermore, by introducing the landfills tax and fees, most governments have been able to raise money from the landfill tax without necessarily increasing any costs to businesses. This has been effective in funding other environmental and official programs of the local and state governments.
Enforcing landfill tax and fees has been an effective way of reducing the impact of waste on the environment. Since the introduction of the tax, there has been a lot of progress in saving the environment as well as the adoption of alternative ways of managing wastes. Reuse, recycling and waste-to-energy as alternatives to landfilling are not only economic, but also environmentally sound alternatives to landfilling. Noteworthy however is that the US’ landfill regime is complex and varied and therefore requires streamlining to make it favorable. Additionally, the current levels of landfill fee charged by California and the rest of the US are relatively low. These costs are far too minimal to encourage change of behavior responsible for pushing waste material to higher and better use. There is need to increase the fees to discourage landfilling while encouraging other alternative methods of waste management. The fees charged on green waste going to landfills do not encourage diversion of this material to other uses making it difficult to influence consumer behavior in the US. Charging high fees has had great success in the European Union, an arrangement that the US can a
CalRecycle. Landfill Tipping Fees in California. California: Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, 2015. Web. 11 March 2016
CalRecycle. Tipping Fees in California. CalRecycle, 2014. Web. 11 March 2016
EPA. Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figure for 2012. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency, 2014. Web. 11 March 2016
Seely, Antony. Landfill tax: Introduction & Early History. Library House of Commons, 2009
Talbot, Adrian. Qualitative research into drivers of diversion from landfill and innovation in the waste management industry. Birmingham: Data Build, 2014. Web. 11 March 2016
Wallace, Bob. US Landfill Disposal the Big Picture. WIH Resource Group. Web. 11 March 2016