The Bulletin

Virginia took in less trash from out of state in 2021 (but still a lot)

By: - June 28, 2022 12:03 am

Plastic waste. (Sarah Vogelsong/ Virginia Mercury)

The amount of solid waste Virginia accepted from other states dipped in 2021 compared to the prior year, but the commonwealth still took in more than 5.3 million tons of out-of-state trash. 

According to an annual report on solid waste issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Monday, 23.6 percent of the state’s 22.7 million tons of solid waste last year came from other jurisdictions. 

In 2020, that proportion was 25.2 percent

Maryland continued to be the largest contributor of out-of-state waste, giving Virginia facilities almost 2.4 million tons. Other big givers were New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and North Carolina. 

Most of that out-of-state waste was municipal solid waste, or the everyday garbage thrown out by households and small businesses. Construction and demolition debris and industrial waste from other jurisdictions decreased significantly between 2020 and 2021, with the latter falling 23.3 percent. 

Irina Calos, a spokesperson for Virginia DEQ, said in an email that the variance in out-of-state trash from year to year “is driven by changes in contracts with facilities.”

“This could be due to losing or gaining customers, changes in the types of activities the debris is from, as well as the diversion of wastes to out of state facilities,” she wrote.

Overall, Virginia’s waste landscape in 2021 remained much the same as it was in 2020. Total waste received by the commonwealth’s more than 200 management facilities rose only 1 percent. Of that, roughly 73 percent went to landfills, 12 percent was incinerated and 8 percent was recycled, although DEQ notes that most recycling in the state occurs at facilities other than the permitted waste management facilities surveyed for the annual report. 

A separate state recycling report is also issued annually and will be released later in the year.  

While the amount of out-of-state waste accepted by Virginia was a hot-button political issue in the 1990s, the most recent wrangling in Richmond on the topic concerned waste operator fees. 

During the 2022 session, the General Assembly passed a bill with support from the waste management industry that would have increased the fees facility operators pay the state with the goal of covering millions of dollars in expenses Virginia incurs annually to oversee landfills and other related facilities.

Currently, those expenses are paid for using general fund dollars. 

Despite General Assembly and industry approval, Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed the legislation this April, saying it would increase “the cost of doing business in Virginia with pass-through costs to consumers” and contending that “the burden of increased costs this would place on Virginians is too great.”

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]