Have you ever thought about where that week-old pizza goes once dumped in the trash? The answer is probably Pennsylvania. Unfortunately for them, PA is the number one importer of municipal solid waste and has been since 1992.
Of all the US states, Pennsylvania has been hit the hardest with 23 percent of the nation’s waste crossing into its borders from 28 states including New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and Canada.
Why Pennsylvania? Being more rural, the state has enormous amounts of available land. As opposed to the surrounding areas of urban New York and New Jersey, Pennsylvania has enough room to fit enough landfills the space needed to take in all of this trash. Pennsylvania’s numerous interstate highways have also made traveling from New York or New Jersey a long but easy trip for the waste until now.
Historically, Pennsylvania has reported receiving more than 4.1 million tons of waste from New York State each year. PA residents generate only one third of that amount a year. Pennsylvania had to adopt a number of regulatory measures to address the negative impacts associated with their landfills calling into question the continuing ability of New York City to rely on Pennsylvania to meet its disposal needs.
Further, a review of several mid-western and southern states found no large waste importing landfill, with excess permitted capacities, that could reliably meet New York City’s long-term disposal needs and with disposal costs rising steeply it seems imperative that the city address this issue before escalating costs significantly impact the city’s fiscal strength.
So, for New York City to meet its disposal needs, it will likely have to either access landfills that are not currently accepting large volumes of out-of-state waste or create a more self-reliant process that mitigates dependence on outside interests and other states.
The most cost competitive waste management solution will likely be a fully-integrated recycling and waste prevention program in which New York City integrates smarter long-term strategies that include on-site food waste disposal. Handling food waste at its source of generation and removing it out of the waste stream will provide New York City control over rising disposal costs by eliminating the transportation costs associated with reaching distant landfills.
This plan would stretch out the life of Pennsylvania’s landfills, filling them slower and reducing the need for expansions while increasing New York City’s recycling rates which have been dropping.
The flow of trash that is forced to come from out-of-state locations is placing a burden on both Pennsylvania and now New York City and soon those 27 other states. Pennsylvania is in a great position to drive the change needed, perhaps transforming them from The Garbage State to The Smarter State.