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States with the most landfill waste

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States with the most landfill waste

Landfills are an indelible feature of the American landscape, visible among rolling hills, in mountain hollows, and even from space. With the United States producing some 728,000 tons of garbage every day, working out to 4.4 pounds per person, the country’s thousands of landfills are an integral part of solid waste management.

In years past, landfills were open town dumps, barely regulated if at all. Garbage often was simply set on fire. Modern landfills are far more efficient and environmentally conscious, sometimes intricately ventilated and using impervious liners to limit seepage and groundwater contamination.

Inside landfills, decomposing matter creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. In fact, landfills are one of the largest contributors to methane emissions in the United States, accounting for 14% of emissions in 2017. Some landfills use flares to burn off methane from below to ensure it does not build up and possibly explode. Others use the methane as an energy source to generate electricity.

Solid waste management has been forced to make dramatic adjustments in the United States since China in late 2017 stopped importing plastic waste. Called the National Sword policy, the Chinese move was aimed at protecting its environment and people’s health. The impact was big: Some 70% of the world's plastic waste had been going to China—around 7 million tons a year. Other countries in Southeast Asia stepped in, particularly Malaysia and also the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, some without well-developed regulatory systems.

Many worry that more of the world’s plastic will end up discarded in illegal dumps, rivers, and the ocean—or burned. China’s abrupt waste restrictions left U.S. recycling firms facing skyrocketing costs. Where once they paid municipalities for waste that could be turned into recycled goods, they began charging for the cost of getting rid of waste instead. Cities and towns have suspended recycling, raised fees and taxes, and sent more waste to landfills.

Today, U.S. landfills hold about 7.4 billion tons of waste. The state with the most waste in landfills is Nevada, while Idaho, North Dakota, and Connecticut have the least.

Stacker has listed the states, ranked by the amount of their landfill waste per capita, and the sum of their landfill gasses, based on Save On Energy, using the EPA’s 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program data.

You may also like: How much carbon dioxide does your state emit?

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Tech. Sgt. Brian Ferguson // U.S. Air Force

#50. Idaho

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 4.1
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 6.4

Work is underway to build a cover for a 97-acre Cold War landfill in Idaho that contains radioactive and hazardous waste dumped in unlined pits and trenches from the former Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado, which made plutonium-based parts for nuclear weapons. The cover is aimed at preventing rain and snowmelt from traveling through the landfill's debris and contaminated soil and reaching the underground Snake River Plain Aquifer. The city of Twin Falls was one of many across the country that recently cut back its recycling program in the wake of China’s ban and will no longer accept plastics and mixed paper—a move expected to cut the city’s costs in half.

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers // Flickr

#49. North Dakota

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 5.2
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 5.0

The low population and long distances between cities and towns in North Dakota make statewide recycling programs difficult to implement. Among its landfills, one in the northwest corner of the state is poised to become the first facility in the state to accept higher levels of radioactive oilfield waste, produced from oil and gas drilling. The waste has been trucked to disposal facilities out of state and also has been found dumped illegally in North Dakota.

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United Nations Photo // Flickr

#48. Connecticut

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 7.3
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 1.5

Connecticut’s last major operational landfill takes in ash from garbage plants around the state and from New York. In 2017 residents threw away over 2.7 million tons of municipal solid waste, most of which was incinerated to create energy but creating hundreds of thousands of tons of ash. Connecticut enacted a law in 2019 charging 10 cents per single-use plastic checkout bag.

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StockStudio // Shutterstock

#47. Massachusetts

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 10.8
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 4.2

In the 1980s, nearly all Massachusetts’ trash was dumped at hundreds of small landfills, mostly run by municipalities. Now private landfills are more common and just a few remain. As its landfills closed, about a quarter of its solid waste was hauled out of state to facilities in New Hampshire, Ohio, Maine, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island. A new master plan for Massachusetts through 2030 sets milestones for waste reduction, recycling and disposal, and successful initiatives include municipal "pay-as-you-throw" programs which incentivize households to reduce waste.

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hiv360 // Shutterstock

#46. Minnesota

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 12.4
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 4.0

The recycling rate in major cities in Minnesota show that it is one of the best states at dealing with solid waste. Recycling collection produces $690 million in annual revenue and supports 37,000 jobs. Already surpassing the national average, by 2030 Minnesota is aiming for a 75% recycling rate for counties in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. But without China as an export option, recyclables have been piling up, service costs have increased, and some recycling collectors have reduced their business.

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VicPhotoria // Shutterstock

#45. New Mexico

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 12.7
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 5.3

New Mexico was among the first states to feel the effects of China’s ban. The amount of waste from the Santa Fe area alone that ended up in landfills jumped to 25% from 9%, a difference of some 1,500 tons.

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Perutskyi Petro // Shutterstock

#44. Rhode Island

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 12.7
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 19.8

Rhode Island’s Central Landfill accepts only in-state waste and provides disposal services to about 97% of residents. It is expected to reach capacity in 2034.

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Peteri // Shutterstock

#43. Maine

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 12.8
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 7.7

Maine has over 400 capped landfills, and towns and cities that are still using their landfills must have a plan in place to close them by 2025. The state banned single-use plastic bags in June 2019.

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Zachary Lehr

#42. Arkansas

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 12.8
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 6.8

Arkansas recycles slightly less than half of its solid waste, a figure that has been on the rise. Most of the garbage ends up in its landfills.

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Imfoto // Shutterstock

#41. West Virginia

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 13.3
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 9.1

As of 2018, West Virginia had 17 municipal solid waste landfills that processed almost two million tons of waste a year, about half of its permitted capacity. The state exported about 700,000 tons of waste but imported over 200,000 into the state. Before the mid-1970s, solid waste collection and disposal in West Virginia was largely uncontrolled and often burned at open municipal dumps, degrading water supplies, endangering public health, and harming property values and the state’s natural resources.

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Maksim Safaniuk // Shutterstock

#40. Wyoming

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 13.7
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 2.8

Sparsely populated Wyoming produces relatively little municipal solid waste, and most of its recycling went to China before the ban. More recyclables now are going into landfills; although, in the city of Laramie, only 9% of recycling is going unrecycled. The town of Jackson, on the other hand, sends its waste to a landfill in nearby Idaho.

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Steve Snodgrass // Flickr

#39. Maryland

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 13.7
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 5.2

In Maryland, the landfills are nearly full and expected to reach capacity in about 30 years at the current rate. Maryland recycles about 44% of its waste, ahead of the national average of about 35%, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Maryland’s Montgomery County, with no operating landfills, pays to ship ash and raw waste to Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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USDA NRCS Montana // Flickr

#38. Montana

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 14.3
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 4.7

Montana has 30 landfills capable of accepting industrial solid waste, and its average life span is about 43 years. Montana imports solid waste from Wyoming, North Dakota, Idaho, Washington, and Yellowstone National Park, and it exports solid waste to Idaho and North Dakota.

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Vitaliy Kyrychuk // Shutterstock

#37. Utah

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 14.7
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 4.8

Utah has 168 landfills, but with the state’s population expected to double by 2060, capacity is a concern. Landfills around Salt Lake City are expected to last until 2065, but more people and more consumption are expected to shorten that date.

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Tong_stocker // Shutterstock

#36. Florida

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 14.7
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 8.2

Florida is aiming for a 75% recycling rate by 2020. Twenty of its counties are already recycling over 50% of their waste, ahead of their interim goals.

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NOAA Marine Debris Program // Flickr

#35. Hawaii

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 15.4
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 3.0

In Hawaii, Oahu’s only landfill for construction and demolition debris is filling up faster than expected because of the state’s construction boom, and a landfill next to Hilo International Airport has stopped accepting construction and demolition debris. The most populous counties in Hawaii prohibit non-biodegradable plastic bags at checkout as well as paper bags containing less than 40% recycled material.

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Senior Airman Omari Bernard // U.S. Air Force

#34. Alaska

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 15.4
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 12.7

Alaska has two types of landfills: One is used by rural communities, often not accessible by road. These landfills are usually unlined open dump facilities that can only receive five tons or less of waste per day. A larger type of landfill is lined and can take in more municipal solid waste.

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Avigator Fortuner // Shutterstock

#33. Oklahoma

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 15.5
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 9.3

In Oklahoma, homeowners can dispose of household waste on their own property. This includes garbage, trash, and sanitary waste from septic tanks.

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CarlisleEnergy // Wikimedia Commons

#32. Georgia

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 16.0
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 10.4

One of the nation’s largest landfills is Chesser Island Road in Folkston, Ga. It handles 1.6 million tons of solid waste per year and is projected to close in 2055. Another is Eagle Point, in Ball Ground, that handles 1.4 million tons per year and is projected to close in 2026.

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EvGavrilov // Shutterstock

#31. New Hampshire

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 16.2
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 4.2

The giant Turnkey landfill in Rochester, N.H., receives more than half of its 1.4 million tons of waste from other states. Plans are in the works for its expansion.

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Gene Spesard // Flickr

#30. Arizona

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 16.5
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 6.6

Arizona’s Butterfield Station landfill is among the largest in the nation, handling 1.2 million tons of solid waste per year. It is projected to close in 2090. The city of Surprise, home to nearly 140,000 residents, recently suspended its recycling program, citing low prices and rising costs to sort and market its recyclables.

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USEPA // Flickr

#29. New York

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 16.5
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 7.1

New York’s Fresh Kills landfill was once so large it was said to be visible from space. It was closed in 2001 and turned into parkland. Today, Seneca Meadows in Waterloo is one of the nation’s largest landfills. It handles two million tons of solid waste per year and is projected to close in 2025. New York became the third state in 2019 to ban most single-use plastic bags provided by grocery stores and other retailers.

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Scott Thompson // Wikimedia Commons

#28. North Carolina

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 16.8
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 8.3

North Carolina’s landfill capacity is estimated to have over 20 years remaining. This state ships most of its waste out of state, primarily to South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia.

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Christopher Elwell // Shutterstock

#27. South Dakota

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 17.7
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 5.6

South Dakota has 15 landfills permitted by the state. The city of Sioux Falls is one of the few in the country that accepts loose plastic bags in curbside recycling. The bags must be collected inside a single plastic bag and tied shut.

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Luigi Bertello // Shutterstock

#26. Texas

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 17.8
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 11.6

In Texas, waste disposal of almost 35 million tons a year averages out to almost seven pounds per person. The state’s capacity for handling solid waste is estimated to last another 56 years.

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Tequask // Wikimedia Commons

#25. Oregon

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 18.2
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 7.8

In the wake of China’s ban, dozens of recycling companies in Oregon have sought a “disposal concurrence” from state authorities to dispose of waste rather than recycle it. The concurrence system is designed as a short-term solution until recyclers find other places to send their material. As of 2020, single-use plastic checkout bags will be banned in Oregon, and single-use plastic straws will only be distributed upon request.

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Maksim Safaniuk // Shutterstock

#24. South Carolina

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 19.0
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 8.6

South Carolina was not impacted by China’s ban on U.S. recyclables because it already had so much plastic that China did not take. In 2017, the state imported more than 500,000 tons of waste, mostly from New York and Georgia.

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Kokhanchikov // Shutterstock

#23. Washington

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 19.3
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 7.7

Washington is home to one of the nation’s largest landfills. Roosevelt Regional handles 2.5 million tons of solid waste a year and is projected to stay open until 2075.

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kathi_1983 // Shutterstock

#22. Nebraska

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 19.5
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 8.1

In Nebraska, most household waste goes into landfills. Over 2 million tons of waste are sent each year to the state's 23 permitted landfills.

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Strahil Dimitrov // Shutterstock

#21. Vermont

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 20.2
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 14.1

Vermont has one giant landfill, after hundreds of small town dumps across the state shut down in the 1980s and 1990s. Without a new permit, the landfill is expected to run out of space and be forced to close in three years. Vermont has among the lowest total municipal solid waste generated per capita in the country.

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sspopov // Shutterstock

#20. Iowa

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 20.3
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 8.6

Iowa generates 2.8 million tons of solid waste per year, and the state’s 50 landfills take in nearly all of that garbage. With less foreign demand for recyclables, recycling companies in Iowa are struggling to find markets for the waste.

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Sin Dinero // Shutterstock

#19. Tennessee

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 21.0
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 10.5

Tennessee’s busiest landfill in Murfreesboro is expected to run out of space in as few as five years. Nashville, the state’s capital city, recycles and composts less than a quarter of its waste.

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milorad milankovic // Shutterstock

#18. Louisiana

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 21.5
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 8.9

Locating landfills in Louisiana is challenging because much of the state is within the floodplain of the Mississippi River, and most land in the southern part of the state has an elevation at or near sea level. As a consequence of China’s ban, a major processor of household recyclables in the New Orleans area went out of business.

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Airman 1st Class Arielle Vasquez // U.S. Air Force

#17. Alabama

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 21.6
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 11.3

Alabama has 173 operational landfills, or 35 per million residents, compared with New York, which has only three for every million people. Alabama recycles about 16% of the total waste it generates, nearly double the rate of seven years ago.

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Kqueirolomce // Wikimedia Commons

#16. Missouri

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 22.3
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 9.7

One of the state’s landfills, Lee's Summit, recently reached capacity and no longer accepts trash after 37 years. It was the only city-owned landfill in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

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Bill Smith // Flickr

#15. Virginia

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 22.4
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 14.5

Virginia has about 60 solid waste landfills in operation. The state’s recycling rate in 2017 was almost 43%.

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CNX OpenStax // Wikimedia Commons

#14. Michigan

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 23.1
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 18.0

With an abundance of landfills and low fees, Michigan accepts trash from other states and Canada. The amount of Canadian solid waste imported to Michigan jumped 19% from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2017, enough trash to fill 881,000 three-axle dump trucks. Overall, more than a quarter of all solid waste put in Michigan landfills is imported from elsewhere.

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Crystal Payton // Wikimedia Commons

#13. Kansas

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 24.9
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 14.4

The dry western part of Kansas is home to small county landfills, while eastern Kansas, which is wetter and more heavily populated, has larger regional landfills that are subject to stricter environmental regulations to reduce runoff and leaching. Historically, every town and city had its own dump, meaning there were roughly 1,000 sites that once handled waste with little or no restrictions.

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FJAH // Shutterstock

#12. New Jersey

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 25.4
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 5.5

In 1980, Woodbury, N.J., was one of the first cities in the country to adopt a recycling program. Today, recycling in New Jersey generates some $548 million in tax revenue. Most of the state’s landfills are run by its county governments

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Wisconsin DNR // Flickr

#11. Wisconsin

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 26.0
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 14.6

In 1990, 676 permitted landfills existed in Wisconsin. Now fewer than 60 remain. Two recently closed sites were planted with pollinator-friendly plants and grasses to support dwindling bee and butterfly populations.

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Roland Balik // U.S. Air Force

#10. Delaware

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 26.6
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 7.9

The state of Delaware operates its three landfills and does not export any garbage out of state. As of January 2021, single-used plastic bags with be banned from most retail stores, which are encouraged to sell reusable bags, or provide paper bags.

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StockStudio // Shutterstock

#9. Mississippi

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 27.9
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 10.6

Mississippi imported over 13% of its solid waste in 2016, the most recent data available. Its largest city, Jackson, just ended its residential curbside recycling program, citing low participation and a drop in market demand. The city was spending about $96,000 a month on curbside pickup, a service utilized by less than one-third of residents.

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kanvag // Shutterstock

#8. Kentucky

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 28.7
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 14.2

Lexington, Ky., a city of 200,000 people, has stopped recycling paper products, meaning newspapers, cereal boxes, and paper rolls go into the garbage. City officials blamed the China ban that upended the market for recycled products. In 2018, the city lost about a half-million dollars on its recycling operation.

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Vershinin89 // Shutterstock

#7. Ohio

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 31.0
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 14.4

Three of the nation’s largest landfills are located in Ohio. The Hughes Road landfill in Colerain Township handles 1.5 million tons of solid waste per year and is projected to close in 2028. The Lorain County landfill in Oberlin also is projected to close in 2028, while a third in Grove City is projected to stay open until 2038.

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Anton Petrus // Shutterstock

#6. Indiana

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 32.3
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 18.4

The Newton County landfill in Brook, Ind., is one of the largest in the country, and it projected to remain open until 2033. It handles 2.1 million tons of solid waste per year.

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Andrew Hahn // Shutterstock

#5. Illinois

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 34.2
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 13.5

In Illinois, the Orchard Hills landfill, which handles 1.8 million tons of solid waste per year, is among the nation’s largest but is projected to close in 10 years. Garbage from Chicago, which creates more than 800,000 tons every year, goes to one of four landfills, each about 100 miles from the city. Two are in Illinois and two are in Indiana.

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Doc Searls // Flickr

#4. California

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 35.0
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 10.6

One of the largest landfills in the country is Sunshine Canyon in Sylmar. It handles 2.3 million tons of solid waste per year and is projected to close in 2031. In 2014, California became the first state to enact legislation for a ban on single-use plastic bags in large retail stores.

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Avigator Fortuner // Shutterstock

#3. Colorado

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 35.2
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 7.6

In Colorado, the Denver Arapahoe landfill in Aurora, one of the nation’s largest, handles 2.1 million tons of solid waste per year. It is projected to remain open until 2145.

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FERNANDO MACIAS ROMO // Shutterstock

#2. Pennsylvania

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 35.4
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 15.8

Located in Morrisville, Pennsylvania’s giant Fairless landfill takes in 1.3 million tons of solid waste per year. It is estimated that it will close in 2032.

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Ken Lund // Wikimedia Commons

#1. Nevada

- Tons of trash in landfills per capita: 38.4
- Cubic feet of gas produced by landfills per day per capita: 8.8

Nevada is home to one of the largest landfills in the country, the Apex Regional landfill 20 miles north of Las Vegas. It handles 2.3 million tons of solid waste a year and is projected to stay open until 2326.

You may also like: How much carbon dioxide does your state emit?

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