Natural, Historic & Cultural Resources

Solid Waste & Recycling

Virginia's solid waste stream has grown over time. Although potential landfill space is available in Virginia, the transportation and disposal of solid waste remain a concern.

Why is This Important?

Landfills are associated with odors, risks to air and water quality, and increased traffic by heavy trucks loaded with landfill-bound waste. Unless properly constructed, maintained and monitored over a long period of time, landfills can leak highly contaminated leachate into the groundwater and emit numerous obnoxious and sometimes dangerous air pollutants.

The availability of properly constructed and maintained landfills is an important public policy issue. To ensure the protection of the environment and of public health, proposed landfills are subject to significant licensing requirements, including site and design review by the Department of Environmental Quality. Expanding landfill capacity requires substantial startup time. Landfill standards differ for wastes according to the level of environmental hazard.

How is Virginia Doing?

Virginia's solid waste stream has grown over time more or less in line with the growth in economic activity. Under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Virginia cannot prevent the importation of waste from other states for deposit in landfills within the state. The importation of waste has grown over recent years as northeastern states have found the cost of landfill space increasing rapidly, compared to the cost of transport to and disposal in Virginia. The statewide recycling rate has varied over recent years between 20 and 38 percent, and is currently at 30 percent.

Recycling in Virginia. See text for explanation. Solid Waste Management in Virginia. See text for explanation.

What Influences Solid Waste?

There is little state influence on the amount of waste deposited in landfills. Localities are responsible for determining the need for new landfill capacity and the use of their land. The Department of Environmental Quality is charged with regulating the management and disposal of waste. In this role, the department determines whether the new capacity approved by the localities is constructed and monitored in a manner protective of the environment; inspects landfills to ensure that their programs prevent unauthorized waste, such as hazardous waste, from entering the landfill; prescribes requirements that the owner must meet when the landfill is closed; and works with localities to promote recycling and to establish local programs.

What is the State's Role?

The state could evaluate economic incentives associated with recycling, waste generation and disposal.

What can Citizens Do?

Individuals and groups are encouraged to be active participants in resource management. To learn more about Virginia's environment, stewardship and public participation opportunities, or partners engaged in conservation, please visit the Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources,, or Virginia Naturally,

Data Definitions and Sources

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, &


Recent State Initiatives

Information about waste disposal sites: The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has launched a 5-Step Plan to help Virginia residents and local governments obtain information about sites that may have been used for waste disposal in the past. DEQ has assembled a web page for the 5-Step Plan ( disposal.html) to assist localities in identifying known and/or potential past disposal sites that may be present in their region.

Mercury Switch Removal and Recycling: DEQ has recently implemented a program that removes mercury-containing switches from automobiles prior to the vehicle's demolition. A collection program for the switches is managed by the automobile manufacturers that collect and transports the switches for recycling. This program removes mercury from scrap metal before it is recycled, thus reducing mercury in the waste stream and reducing mercury emissions from steel recycling operations. For more information: mercuryswitch.html

Electronics Recycling: Virginia promotes the responsible management of electronics waste in accordance with federal and state regulations and works to increase citizen awareness of the possible hazards related to improper management of these electronic wastes on its web site and through its outreach systems.

Major State Programs

The Recycling and Litter Prevention Program manages the distribution of annual grants to localities for recycling and litter activities, provides information and guidance on recycling and litter prevention topics, tracks and reports on Virginia's recycling programs, and works with localities, other state agencies and environmental groups to promote environmental awareness through recycling and litter prevention programs. Program staff work closely with local governments and solid waste planning units to ensure that their recycling programs are able to meet or exceed the state's mandated recycling rates. Staff also work with the Virginia Recycling Markets Development Council to identify opportunities to strengthen the state's recycling infrastructures.

The Virginia Resources Authority provides infrastructure financing for Virginia's local governments and authorities.