Tons of Trash: Tour America’s Top 10 Biggest Landfills


Beyond the smell and decay, landfills are considered modern archeology sites, collections of discarded items that give clues to the lifestyles of those who used them. In fact, Harvard-trained archeologist Bill Rathje recently told the LA Times, “The best time capsule in the world is a landfill.”

But that time capsule has an impact.

The average American produces a little over 4 pounds of trash per day, and although we might be diligent about separating our recyclables, once the garbage truck comes along, to us, our waste is out of sight and out of mind. While we return to the house with an empty garbage can, our waste takes off on a journey for the landfill, where mountains of trash pile up to be pushed around by bulldozers and circled by vultures in the air.

Where does your trash go?

We rounded up a list of the top 10 biggest landfills, just to show the ultimate impact of our everyday waste. According to Waste & Recycling News, these are the biggest landfills, based upon tonnage received in 2007. Here are some interesting facts about these places, including some very uplifting ones (really).

Photo by Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun

1. Apex, Las Vegas, Nevada. 3,824,814 tons.

America’s largest landfill, Apex, lies just an hour north of Sin City. Storing nearly 50 million tons of rotting trash, Apex is no small operation. Surprisingly enough, things seem to be slowing down. According to General Manager Mark Clinker commercial and residential waste has actually decreased. Maybe there’s still hope?

Puente Hills

2. Puente Hills, Whittier, California. 3,756,718 tons.

Taking in a third of Los Angeles County’s trash, Puente Hills is a big player when it comes to waste. But talking about trash doesn’t have the same effect as seeing it. Last year, the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), a Culver City-based think tank, sponsored a tour of Puente Hills in an effort to raise awareness about waste. Tickets sold out in minutes. But the landfill doesn’t just process waste. Puente Hills is the largest recycling location in the US, taking more than one million tons per year of recyclable materials.

newton county

3. Newton County Landfill Partnership, Brook, Indiana. 2,692,455 tons.

A stone’s throw from Chicago, Newton County Landfill is responsible for taking a large part of the city’s waste. Chicago residents produce about 1 million tons of trash per year.

Atlantic Waste

4. Atlantic Waste, Waverly, Virginia. 2,669,423 tons.

Virginia’s largest landfill, Atlantic Waste is owned by the trash giant, Waste Management. In 2008 the landfill was fined for some 8,000 gallons of leachate – in other words, garbage juice – which spilled into surrounding wetlands.


5. Okeechobee, Okeechobee, Florida. 2,640,000 tons.

Surprisingly enough, visitors to Okeechobee won’t just see piles of trash, they’ll also get a view of local wildlife. Of the 4,150 acres that make up the site, 1,550 have been placed in conservation easement, offering visitors a variety of recreation and conservation related activities.


6. Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site, Aurora, Colorado. 2,561,809 tons.

Colorado’s largest landfill, Denver Araphoe Disposal Site accepts around 12,000 tons of waste per day. But some of that trash is going to good use. In September of 2008, DADS launched its waste-to-energy system to convert methane into electricity. In partnership with the City of Denver, the system generates enough power to fuel about 3,000 homes. (Photos are from adjacent landfill site Lowry, which ceased operations in 1990 and is now part of the waste-to-energy system)

El Sobrante

7. El Sobrante, Corona, California. 2,173,216 tons.

Another landfill owned by Waste Management, El Sobrante works closely with the Wildlife Habitat Council to manage more than 640 acres for the benefit of 31 different species, two of which are endangered.


8. Rumpke Sanitary, Colerain Township, Ohio. 2,128,165 tons.

Located near Cincinnati, Rumpke Sanitary brings in a lot of trash, but like other landfills, is doing its part to put some of it to good use. The landfill site hosts three methane recovery facilities that have the potential to recover approximately 15 million standard cubic feet of landfill gas daily. In total, the facilities produce enough energy to power 25,000 homes.

Frank Bowerman

9. Frank Bowerman, Irvine, California. 2,059,859 tons.

One of California’s largest landfills, Frank Bowerman also boasts the world’s first landfill gas-to-LNG plant. The plant has the capacity to produce 5,000 gallons of LNG per day, which has about the same environmental benefits as taking about 150,000 vehicles off the road per year.

Columbia Ridge

10. Columbia Ridge, Arlington Oregon. 2,050,602 tons.

Columbia Ridge processes waste from all over the Northwest, serving major cities Portland, OR and Seattle, WA.

Photo Credits: D’Arcy Norman, Steve Marcus, Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, WM, Google, Farache, EPA, Center for Land Use Interpretation, Craig Ruttle, n6vhf, Eric Mortenson.

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