Not in My Landfill: Virginia and the Politics of Waste Importation
Journal IssueVolume 7 – Issue 2, 2000
Since the 1970s, federal and state regulations have dramatically changed the management of municipal solid waste in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Regulations required open dumps to be replaced by sanitary landfills with control technology to prevent environmental contamination. In contrast to local governments, private waste management companies had the financial resources to construct landfills with the necessary technology. Recently, companies have found that these expansive landfills could not survive financially on Virginia trash alone and began to import waste from other municipalities on the East Coast. This practice has led Virginia to become the second largest importer of municipal solid waste in the country. Waste importation has developed into a political and legal battle that has pitted the Commonwealth and grassroots organizations against the waste industry and its clients. Each stakeholder group makes a compelling argument as to why their position best protects local economies, Virginia's citizens, and the Commonwealth's natural resources. However, the Commerce Clause prevents states from enacting statutes that would interfere with interstate trade of waste. This article discusses the growth of the waste industry in Virginia and the perspectives of stakeholders involved with the importation debate. Without federal legislative action, the author concludes, there is no straightforward answer to the "problem" of waste importation in Virginia.