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Wisconsin's waste imports and exports

One of the most common questions about Wisconsin's landfills has been how much waste they receive from other states each year. This amount changes from year to year due to a variety of factors, including the overall cost of landfilling in neighboring states versus Wisconsin, fuel prices, general economic conditions, competition for contracts among private waste haulers and ongoing consolidation in the waste management industry.

Waste materials in the global marketplace

Many "waste" materials are valuable resources that can be reused or turned into new products. Recyclables such as paper and plastic are bought and sold on a global scale. The DNR does not track data on imports and exports of these materials.

Materials that cannot be reused or recycled are also part of the national and global economies, and are frequently transported across state and national boundaries to be disposed of at appropriate solid waste facilities.

How much waste does Wisconsin import and export?

Most states import as well as export solid waste for disposal. Wisconsin imports and exports significant amounts of municipal solid waste (MSW), industrial solid waste and hazardous waste each year. The tables below provide a snapshot of municipal and industrial solid waste imports and exports in 2012.

Out-of-state waste disposed of in Wisconsin landfills in 2012, in tons
Source State Municipal Solid Waste Non-MSW (Industrial) Totals
Illinois 35,421 81,203 116,624
Iowa 14 10,737 10,751
Michigan 1,693 6,474 8,167
Minnesota 203,804 46,327 250,131
Other -- 61 61
Totals 240,932 144,802 385,734
Wisconsin waste disposed of in other states in 2011, in tons
Receiving State Municipal Solid Waste Non-MSW (Industrial) Totals
Illinois 71,589 -- 71,589
Iowa 2,041 -- 2,041
Michigan 63,034 33,387 95,951
Totals 139,494 33,387 169,581

Notes: Illinois figures reported in gate cubic yards, converted to tons using the Illinois EPA conversion factor of 3.3 gate cubic yards per ton. Michigan figures reported in cubic yards, converted to tons using the Michigan DEQ conversion factor of 3 cubic yards per ton. Michigan figures represent their fiscal year of 10/1/11 to 9/30/12. Data on exports to Minnesota not available.

Where does the waste imported into Wisconsin come from?

Most of Wisconsin's waste imports come from Illinois and Minnesota, with smaller amounts coming from Michigan and Iowa.

The graph below shows trends in Wisconsin's waste imports from 2002 through 2011. The graph shows a generally upward trend in waste imports through 2004-2005. From 2005 through 2008 there was a gradual decline, followed by sharp declines in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, most waste came from Illinois (about 56 percent of the total) and Minnesota (about 39 percent of the total). In 2010 and 2011, imports from Minnesota were more than double the imports from Illinois. The overall total in 2011 was about 426,000 tons, more than 60,000 tons less than in 1997. Imports from Michigan, Iowa and other states combined made up about 3 percent of the total.

Are waste imports into Wisconsin increasing?

Waste imports to Wisconsin jumped significantly at the end of the 1990s, peaking in 2004 at nearly 2.2 million tons, when out-of-state waste made up almost one-fifth of all waste disposed of in-state landfills. Since then, waste imports declined gradually before falling sharply between 2008 and 2009. In 2009, Wisconsin landfills received 1.2 million tons of out-of-state waste, about 13 percent of all waste landfilled. The downward trend continued in 2010 and has leveled out somewhat in 2011, with out-of-state waste making up only 5 percent of the 8.5 million tons of waste disposed of in Wisconsin landfills.

When looking just at MSW, waste imports peaked in 2004 at 1.8 million tons, more than one-fifth of all MSW landfilled in Wisconsin. In 2011, 280,000 tons of out-of-state MSW came to Wisconsin landfills, about 7 percent of the total 4.3 million tons of MSW landfilled that year.

The chart below shows the overall trends in the tons of MSW and non-MSW landfilled in Wisconsin from 2002 through 2011. The total amount of waste landfilled remained fairly steady until 2009, when there was a significant decline. Possible reasons for this include the slow economy and increase in-state tipping fees, which rose from about $6 per ton to nearly $13 per ton in 2009.

The chart below is similar to the previous one but shows only MSW totals. MSW increased significantly between 2003 and 2004, from 7 to 8.5 million tons, then gradually declined from 2005 to 2008. In 2009 the total fell sharply, from 7.6 million tons in 2008 to 5.7 million tons in 2009, and even more sharply in 2010 to 4.4 million tons.

You can view all data on tons of waste landfilled each year in Wisconsin by visiting our Landfill tonnage reports page.

Which Wisconsin landfills receive the most waste from out of state?

Most of the waste imported into Wisconsin goes to seven landfills near our borders with Illinois and Minnesota.

Does the waste from other states contain a lot of recyclables?

Wisconsin has a strong recycling ethic and has been a recycling leader for many years. Many communities in neighboring states also have strong recycling programs. For example, MSW coming from Minnesota and Illinois is similar in composition to MSW from Wisconsin. Municipalities in Minnesota and Illinois operate successful recycling programs that divert most of the same materials from MSW that Wisconsin's programs do. DNR staff that inspect Wisconsin landfills have not observed significant differences between the amounts of recyclables in Wisconsin MSW and MSW from other states. Wisconsin's absolute bans on landfilling certain materials apply equally regardless of where waste comes from. These bans include yard materials, lead-acid batteries, major appliances, waste oil, oil filters, and a number of electronic devices For more information, see our What to recycle in Wisconsin page.

What does it cost to landfill waste in Wisconsin compared to surrounding states?

Most waste coming into Wisconsin from other states goes to privately owned landfills. It is difficult to compare disposal ("tipping") prices at these landfills because most waste haulers are either part of the company owning the landfill or do business under a private contract that includes volume discount pricing. Based on published price lists, Wisconsin landfill tipping prices are comparable to most surrounding states.

Wisconsin and other states also impose per-ton fees on landfilled waste, typically to support recycling and other environmental programs. Wisconsin's per-ton tipping fee is currently higher than in surrounding states.

The table below gives a overview of tipping fees in the Upper Midwest States. View a more detailed breakdown of posted gate tip fees by landfill [PDF].

Posted Gate Landfill Tip Charges in Upper Midwest States, 2010 and 2011
State Average posted gate tip price (per ton) (1)
Statewide average (2) Landfills near WI borders (3) State fee (per ton)
2010 2011 2010 2011
Illinois $53 $53 $52 $52 About $2.22 - varies by amount of waste
Iowa $45 $42 $42 $42 $3.65 to $4.75 (amount collected and amount remitted to DNR based on waste diversion in district where landfill is located)
Michigan n/a n/a $73 $78 $0.36
Minnesota $49 n/a $58 $71 $6.66
Wisconsin $52 $54 $55 $56 $12.997
(1) Average posted gate rates are typically higher than fees assessed on high volume customers.
(2) Obtained from state agencies.
(3) Wisconsin DNR surveys of landfill operators.

Why can't we just ban waste imports from other states?

Federal courts have made it clear that state laws that ban or limit the landfilling of garbage from other states in order to preserve landfill space for in-state garbage violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Courts have also rejected state laws that impose higher fees on garbage from other states than on in-state garbage. States do have some ability to limit waste imports if the imported waste does not meet certain environmental standards, as long as environmental requirements are applied to both in-state and out-of-state waste.

Last revised: Thursday January 23 2014