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Begin With The Bin

Begin with the Bin is a public education resource developed by the National Waste & Recycling Association. The site offers information and resources related to the waste and recycling industries.

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Size Report

Study published by the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) , performed by R.W. Beck, Orlando, FL and Chartwell Information Publishers, San Diego, CA, April 2001. EREF, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to developing environmental solutions for the future.

Executive Summary

The waste management industry provides a vital public service that ensures the health and safety of citizens across the United States. To date, the availability of independent, authoritative, comprehensive, and statistically defensible U.S. solid waste industry data has been limited, due in part to the significant number of public and private sector players in the solid waste industry and the wide range of services they provide.

Recognizing the need for such comprehensive industry information, the Environmental Research and Education Foundation1 (“Foundation”) retained R. W Beck, Inc. and Chartwell Information Publishers (“Chartwell”) to conduct an independent survey to measure the U.S. solid waste industry, in terms of total revenue, employment, quantities of solid waste managed, and other meaningful industry statistics (“National Survey”).

This comprehensive study targeted publicly traded, privately held, and public sector organizations in the industry. Specifically, the study sought to capture data on solid waste and recyclables collection and hauling operations, as well as operation of the following solid waste industry facility types: municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills, construction and demolition (C&D) landfills, transfer stations, waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities, material recovery facilities (MRF), compost facilities, and other solid waste management facilities.

The study sought to measure the industry based on generally accepted financial and operating data, such as revenues, employment, and waste disposal and collection quantities (as well as others). Many of the results in this report were derived from primary source data provided by companies and organizations in the industry. However, due to the size and variety of the industry, some of the results shown in the report were derived from statistical sampling and extrapolation methods. Note that all data collection was performed from late 1999 through early 2000, and study results reflect annual estimates for calendar year 1999.

The following bullet points summarize the major findings of the study. (Results shown in the Executive Summary represent mean estimates only. Data collection methods used to develop these mean results, as well as upper and lower confidence intervals, are described in the body of the report.)

  • Number of Organizations: An estimated 27,000 organizations (private sector companies and public sector governmental and quasi-governmental organizations) were operating in the industry. More than 55 percent of these entities were in the public sector. Of the remainder, 45 percent were privately held, while only 0.1 percent were publicly traded. Solid waste organizations were further segmented as follows:
    • Hauling Operations: Approximately 15,500 solid waste industry organizations (57 percent) solely conducted hauling operations and did not own a solid waste facility.
    • Solid Waste Facilities: Approximately 11,500 organizations owned an estimated 15,700 facilities that dispose, recycle, incinerate, or otherwise process solid waste in the United States. About 53 percent of these facilities were owned by the private sector. The vast majority of these facilities handled very small quantities of solid waste or recyclable material, and have likely been undercounted in prior studies estimating the size of the solid waste industry.
  • Revenues: The solid waste industry generated an estimated total revenue, net of intra-industry payments, of $43.3 billion. Approximately 76 percent of this amount was generated by the private sector. Excluding the segment of the industry that is primarily engaged in the operation of scrap metal yards and recycling operations, total industry revenue was equal to $39.8 billion.
  • Relative Size of the Industry: The solid waste industry directly accounted for roughly one-half of one percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). However, the industry’s industrial output and employment were larger than the individual economics of several states, including North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.
  • Economic Impacts: The solid waste industry contributed over $96 billion, 948,000 jobs, and just over one percent of U.S. GDP to the nation’s economy. This included all direct, indirect and induced effects resulting from solid waste industry activities. For every dollar of revenues generated by the industry, a total of $1.23 in additional revenues were generated in the economy through the multiplier effect. Similarly, for every job in the solid waste industry, the multiplier effect created an additional 1.58 jobs outside the industry.
  • Tax Impacts: The solid waste industry contributed a total of $14.1 billion in direct, indirect, and induced taxes to federal, state, and local governments.
  • Employment and Compensation: The solid waste industry employed approximately 367,800 people. Total industry compensation, including benefits, was estimated at $10.0 billion. Based on these figures, employees in the solid waste industry were paid an average of $27,200 per year, including benefits.
  • Waste Quantities: An estimated 544 million tons of solid waste were processed in the U.S. Approximately 370 million (68 percent) tons were landfilled, 29 million tons (5 percent) were incinerated, and 146 million tons (27 percent) were recycled.
  • Equipment: The solid waste industry used approximately 206,000 pieces of motorized equipment in the U.S. This included approximately 148,000 vehicles dedicated to the collection and transfer of solid waste. The remainder of the vehicles included other mobile equipment, stationary and mobile compaction equipment, and other processing equipment.

Table ES-1: U.S. Solid Waste Industry Summary Data, Real Values

To summarize, Table ES-1 presents selected data for each of the business sectors targeted in the study, as well as for the industry as a whole.
Business SectorRevenues (billions)EmployeesFacilities OwnedEquipment OwnedTons Managed (millions)
Publicly Traded Companies$20.6119,5001,84066,100218,700
Privately Held Companies$12.4151,7006,430101,400158,200
Public Sector$10.396,6007,47038,800167,800


Table ES-2: U.S. Solid Waste Industry Summary Data, Percentage Comparison

Table ES-2 shows the percentage breakdown across business sectors, for the same data as summarized in Table ES-1.
Business SectorRevenuesEmployeesFacilities OwnedEquipment OwnedTons Managed
Publicly Traded Companies47.632.511.732.040.2
Privately Held Companies28.641.240.949.229.0
Public Sector23.826.347.518.830.8


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National Waste & Recycling Association
4301 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20008
T: 800-424-2869 T: 202-244-4700
F: 202-966-4824