HomeNewsU.S. Waste Management Industry Is Surprisingly Profitable: Here’s Why

U.S. Waste Management Industry Is Surprisingly Profitable: Here’s Why

by Michael Freeman
Two dump trucks unloading garbage collected from the Greater Vancouver area onto landfill in June 2010.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure couldn’t be more true, it seems. While you probably wouldn’t think so at a glance, the United States’ waste management industry is becoming quite lucrative due to a number of reasons.

As it turns out, America being one of the most wasteful countries on the planet has its upsides for those willing to invest. CNBC reports America generates 239 million metric tons of garbage a year, averaging roughly 1,650 pounds per person. An EPA Board of Scientific Counselors member, Debra Reinhart, told the outlet this makes it “a profitable industry.” Noting Waste Management and Republic Services’ success, she said tipping fees, privatization of landfills, and converting landfill gas to energy all contribute to a hefty profit margin.

You may not know this, but landfills make most of their revenue via tipping fees. The fees are based on a truck’s weight per ton it deposits. In 2020, solid waste landfills averaged $53.72 per ton. For reference, this means a small landfill rakes in about $1.4 million annually, while a large one makes $43.5 million. Though an expensive investment, the tips alone are enticing enough to persuade many to try.

Landfill privatization also contributes to waste management making so much money. Specifically, mining and reclamation can turn landfills almost into a literal gold mine. For instance, a Maine landfill in 2011 made $7.42 million from mining 37,000 tons of metal it recovered in four years.

Finally, modern chemistry allows people to not only mine landfills for ore and metal but also energy. By using methane gas from decaying trash, waste management companies generate a plethora of energy. For example, studies state landfill gas generates about 10.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year.

63,000 Pounds Pulled from Graet Pacific Garbage Patch and That’s Not Even Close to All of It

Though waste management is a profitable industry in the United States, properly managing it is a problem the whole world faces. An unfortunate example of that occurred a few months ago after an ocean cleanup pulled 63,000 pounds from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and they weren’t even close to being done.

A nonprofit named Ocean Cleanup is doing what its name suggests and cleaning up our world’s oceans from trash. Unfortunately, such an endeavor is a tall order USA Today reports. Using a half-mile long trash-trapping system dubbed “Jenny,” the company cleaned 63,000 pounds from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The organization did so over a 12-week period, with one trip actually pulling out a massive 20,000 pounds of trash. However, this is merely a testing phase, and the group estimates the patch contains more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic.

Additionally, that’s not even taking into account the trash and plastic we add to it every year. Nonetheless, Ocean Cleanup remains hopeful it will reduce its size by 50 percent in the next five years. Boyan Slat founded the organization and said thanks to their efforts of cleaning and recycling the trash. They believe they’re making a huge difference.