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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15 thoughts on “Tons of Trash: Tour America’s Top 10 Biggest Landfills

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  3. I agree, I also live in Germany and everything is recycled . I think , being an american . That they are not trained to do this and it must be done . The cities and states need to take steps to ensure this happens as for how long will you be able to put everything into landfills . nEverything can be recycled . Metals , Plastics , Cloth , Wood . Most food scapes should go to compost . How about neighborhood compost bins ? After you put in so many lbs of compostable mats , you can retrieve so many poundsof compost out for your plants – nThe problem with america is everything is revenue . Then what happens to that land after it is filled with crap ? Can it be used ? Is it sold to big Corps for factories ? Cheap houses built on it ? What ?

  4. All landfills leak according to the EPA, even those with liners and leachate collection systems. The leachate (garbage juice) is very toxic and many garbage dumps are on the Superfund priority sites to be cleaned up. Unfortunately, cleanup is a joke. It simply goes to another community to be landfilled or worse, incinerated. Incineration is a landfill in the sky and pollutes the air. The only solution to trash is recycle, reuse, reduce and stop throwing good resourses in the trash.

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  6. By the way, we have made trash-related mistakes as well, and this is what you get from mistakes likes these:

    Just a few days ago, it was decided to clear out the Asse II radioactive trash, which will be a first in human history, take ten years at least and cost billions. But it is still massively better than to have radioactive groundwater.

  7. Hello everyone,

    I live in Germany, and it hurts to see what you’re doing to your beautiful country. Over here, and we’re 82 million people, and we produce a lot of trash as well.

    But we don’t thow it on the landfill for it to rot and contaminate the environment. Instead, we make electricity from it. It’s called incineration:

    And the process is very technologically advanced, so there is not really much (if any) environmental damage. The trash is burned at very high temperatures, so that wet refuse is combustible as well.

    This plant here powers much of Munich (including the Oktoberfest), and we actually imported trash from Italy (Naples) to help them get rid of their trash problem.

    Also, only the leftovers are burnt, the rest is recycled – nationwide:

    Mostly only inert leftovers that are not dangerous and can’t be burned go to landfills. There are also some special landfills for dangerous materials, but the “Deponie”, as we call it, is a sophisticated system designed for minimum environmental impact, for example, with huge concrete foundations to keep the ground and water okay. They are not compareable to a landfill at all.

    On your landfills, you’re sitting on huge amounts of raw materials and energy. Make something of it and reduce the environmental damages. Like, now!

  8. Wow.. amazing pictures.. lovely.. i could not resist me but to have perpetual look on all these images. Thanks!

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  10. very good story– my whole idea for my bags came from keeping items out of our landfills– I wanted to show my kids how we could help–


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  12. Pingback: Tons of Trash: Tour America's Top 10 Biggest Landfills – WIH Resource Group « WIH RESOURCE GROUP

  13. Thanks for giving showing us pictures of these landfills. Imagine all that waste if all the trash from landfills were combined! We’re all so busy with our lives that most of us can’t stop to think about what and how much we’re throwing away! There’s nothing like a visual to remind us to be mindful of our ways.

  14. Great round up Anna, and a frightening reminder that when you throw it out, there is no “out.” However, there are new massive landfills planned for when the Puente Hills and other eyesores are beyond capacity.

  15. Wow! Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Since of us dont live near landfills, its easy to forget. Like you said, “Out of sight, out of mind.”


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