When most people think about the cost of running a landfill, they only consider the cost of collecting and disposing of trash. But there are many other factors in running a landfill besides simply dumping and picking up trash.
Landfills also incur costs for site preparation, maintenance, and labor. Here’s a rundown of the costs that landfills incur to remain functional.
How Much Does It Cost to Run a Landfill?
The average cost of running a landfill is around $2 per cubic yard of trash, but that figure can vary greatly. The cost to run a landfill depends on many factors, including the type of landfill, methane emissions, transportation costs, and fees charged to construction companies who dump construction waste (such as wood or concrete) or charged by recycling centers partnering with landfills.
Factors Contributing to Landfill Costs
One of the most expensive aspects of running a landfill is managing the methane gas that is produced as the trash decomposes. Methane gas is a potent greenhouse gas, and landfills are one of the largest contributors to methane emissions in the United States. In order to capture and control the methane gas, landfill operators must install expensive equipment, such as wells and pipelines, which is a major cost. In some cases, methane gas will be burned off as it rises from the landfill, which has an environmental impact on the area and also costs money to do so.
In addition to purchasing expensive equipment to control methane emissions, running a landfill also requires the purchase of heavy machinery, trucks and workers to handle transportation of waste throughout the landfill.
Another area of maintenance that many people don’t think about is maintaining the landfill landscape itself, including landfill ground cover materials, roads, and permeable layers between waste and the open air.
All of these factors are part of running a landfill, but they vary in cost based on location. For example, landfills tend to be more expensive to run in rural areas where all supplies need to be brought in from further distances, which means transportation costs are higher than if the same landfill was located near an industrial area.
The Decreasing Number of US Landfills
As the cost of running a landfill increases, the number of landfills in the United States continues to decline. According to Statista, there were over 1,250 landfills operating in the US in 2018—which is a decrease of nearly 700 facilities since 2010. This decrease is largely due to stricter environmental regulations and the high cost of running a landfill.
While the number of landfills decreases, the amount of trash that we produce continues to grow. In 2018, Americans produced 292 million tons of trash, and that number is only expected to increase in the years to come. This means that landfills will continue to be an important part of our waste-management system, but that they’ll become progressively more expensive to maintain.
So, the next time you put your recycling bin out on the curb, remember that it’s not only good for the environment, but it also saves taxpayers money. By recycling and composting, we can all help reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.