NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

After Privatization, Landfill Crisis Disappeared

September 12, 2000

Many Americans will recall television-news images of that lonely garbage barge plying up and down the East Coast looking for a place to unload New York's garbage. That was in the 1980s.

One doesn't hear about the "landfill crisis" anymore. That's because solid-waste disposal has been largely privatized and there is more landfill space than ever before.

Here's what happened:

  • In 1976, federal regulations intended to minimize the environmental impact of landfill operations resulted in rising landfill costs and the closure of :"unfit" sites -- mostly small, government-owned landfills.
  • The dramatic increase in capital and operating costs of solid-waste disposal made larger, regional megafills more cost effective and spurred privatization.
  • A recent survey documents that 17 of the nation's 30 largest cities have privatized their landfills, while another two contract out landfill operations.
  • The consulting firm R. W. Beck reports that 27 percent of municipalities with populations greater than 100,000 are considering privatizing their landfills.

But opponents of privatization are out to block that trend. A handful of governors are pushing Congress to enact so-called "flow controls" -- which would place limitations on interstate trash-hauling.

Cities and counties around the country rely on importing and exporting trash -- often utilizing the private sector. In fact, 49 states export municipal solid waste and 45 states import it. Since 1990, interstate shipments of waste have increased 30 percent -- and real disposal costs have fallen.

Source: Geoffrey F. Segal (Reason Public Policy Institute), "Government Mess: Private Sector Is Cleaning Up After '80s Garbage Crisis," Investor's Business Daily, September 12, 2000; Geoffrey Segal and Adrian Moore, "Privatizing Landfills: Market Solutions for Solid-waste Disposal," Policy Study No. 267, May 2000, Reason Public Policy Institute, 3415 S. Sepulveda Boulevard., Suite 400, Los Angeles, Calif, 90034, (310) 391-2245.


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