An analysis based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data going back multiple decades shows Utah is among the least trashy places to live — if you are measuring the tons of solid waste disposed of at government-owned landfills on a per capita basis.

Out of 50 states examined by the IT Asset Management Group, Utah landed at 35 in the rankings with a little more than 100,000 tons of solid waste buried at government-owned landfills. The methodology took the states’ population contrasted to solid waste disposal amounts. It did not include industrial or hazardous waste sites.

Michigan has the most waste in landfills per capita in America, with 68.3 tons of waste in landfills. This is 72.1% above the national average of 39.7 tons of waste in landfills per capita. Overall, there are 685 million tons of waste in Michigan’s landfills. California has the most waste in landfills overall, with nearly two billion tons of waste in its landfills, according to the study.

Richy George, chief revenue officer of IT Asset Management Group, said it is critical that solid waste disposal sites are managed properly to avert environmental impacts such as methane pockets or groundwater contamination.

That management has become more complex with the advent of e-waste such as cell phones and computers that are no longer used but yet offer opportunity for the extraction of expensive components that can be recycled, George added.

Steve Amann drops construction waste off at the Salt Lake Valley Landfill in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 8, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The revolution and evolution of landfills

Patrick Craig knows firsthand the changing nature of waste management, having been in the career since 1990.

Craig is the executive director of the Salt Lake Valley Landfill in western Salt Lake City where there are 450 acres at the fenced site. Craig said about 231 acres have been utilized, so there is room to grow.

“Landfills pretty much work like landfills and have since 1990, but the recycling and what we throw into them has changed substantially,” he said.

At Salt Lake Valley, for example, there are recycling options for those who lack curbside recycling, with the facility taking cardboard, plastic, cans and glass. The facility also takes tires and sends them out to tire recycling centers.

In addition, the Salt Lake County Health Department operates a satellite facility there to take hazardous materials such as paint and oil and provides an e-waste recycling opportunity for residents.

Craig said he suspects there may be more solid waste disposal sites out there in Utah, but they have been closed and abandoned. Since the 90s, however, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality has required detailed accounting from landfills regarding the amount of waste received and the type.

At Salt Lake Valley, which operates under an interlocal agreement with Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City, the facility receives an estimated half million tons of waste on an annual basis.

Craig said to put that in comparison, he visited a landfill in Phoenix that took in 8,000 tons of waste per day.

“I tell you what. That’s an eye-opener.”

Utah’s ranking puts it at 25% below the national average on a per capita basis.

“That Utah potentially produces 25% less than the national average, yes, that’s good news.”

Heat rises from a pile of compost, made from green waste, at the Salt Lake Valley Landfill in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 8, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News