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waste diverted from landfills
This indicator is measured by:
  • Percent of Waste Diverted from Landfills
  • Pounds of Trash Generated per Residence
Diversion Rates
  1. National Landfill Diversion Rate Average: 33.8%
  2. Highest Landfill Diversion Rate: San Francisco: 77%
  3. DC's Landfill Diversion Rate: 23%
Sources: EPA,, DC Government
Want to help prevent this? Recycle. Photo credit: District Department of the Environment

If you’ve ever seen a landfill, you may think twice before tossing a plastic bottle or can into the trash. The products we purchase have a lifecycle, beginning the moment they are designed to when they are created and shipped to wherever we may buy them. When we recycle items or throw them into the garbage, their lifecycle continues. By reducing our consumption, recycling appropriate items, and reusing when we can, we can lessen the percentage of our waste that ends up in landfills. At the same time, we can lower waste management costs and preserve our natural resources. Other viable options for landfill diversion include both composting and waste-to-energy, which is the practice of converting solid waste to electricity. These methods not only reduce the need for landfill space, but also reduce the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. Another strategy for reducing the amount of waste produced is to provide a financial incentive to do so. Over 7,000 communities have adopted “Pay-As-You-Throw” programs in which residents pay for each can or bag of trash they produce, as opposed to paying a flat fee or tax. In a “Pay-As-You-Throw” program, households who reduce their waste incur lower trash bills (and send less trash to landfills, of course). Programs like these are useful to examine as the District strives to increase the amount of waste it diverts from landfills.

Recycling Rates for 10 Largest U.S. Cities (2009)
  1. Los Angeles: 65%
  2. San Jose: 60%
  3. New York: 55%
  4. San Diego: 54.9%
  5. Chicago: 52.4%
  6. Dallas: 44.6%
  7. Philadelphia: 42%
  8. Phoenix: 23%
  9. Houston: 16.7%
  10. San Antonio: 4%
Source: Waste & Recycling News (March 2, 2009)  

Recycling Rates by Region (2010)

  1. West: 35%
  2. New England: 22%
  3. Mid-Atlantic: 20%
Source: State of the Garbage in America Report, by Biocycle (2010) 

In the District, the Department of Public Works offers “single stream” recycling for residents, meaning that all recyclable items may be mixed together in one container. While the amount of waste recycled or composted instead of being sent to the landfill—also known as the “diversion rate”—is lower than we would like, it has been steadily increasing since 2004. In 2004, DPW collected 21,835 tons of recyclable material from the residential sector, generating a diversion rate of approximately 14%. The residential diversion rate leaped to 24% in 2009, as DPW collected 33,414 tons of recyclable material from the residential sector. For the full year of 2009, the District-wide diversion rate was 34%. Measurements of residential and District-wide waste allow us to look at the collective efforts of the city to lessen physical waste; they also provide a method to compare our waste output and diversion to that of other metropolitan areas as well as the national average of 33.8% landfill diversion.

How is the indicator defined? How often updated?

This annually updated indicator measures the percentage of residential waste in the District that is recycled (does not go to a landfill) and the percentage of waste from all District-wide activity that is diverted from landfills. The number of pounds of household and bulk trash generated per residence served by the Department of Public Works is also measured. The Green Dashboard’s residential diversion rate refers to waste collected by the Department of Public Works from 103,000 single-family homes and small residential buildings (with no more than three units). Larger residential buildings (with more than three units) and commercial properties are required to manage and dispose of their own waste stream, so their recyclables and waste are not captured by this indicator. This data is provided by the District Department of Public Works.   

Note: The formula for pounds of household and bulk trash = (tons of household trash collected+ bulk collected) divided by 100,000 households x 2000 to convert tons to pounds. In 2006, DPW began using a household count of 102,300. 

Tons of Waste Generated Per Capita (2010)
  1. New York: .87
  2. Georgia: 1.19
  3. Texas: 1.2
  4. Oregon: 1.22
  5. Illinois: 1.29
  6. Massachusetts: 1.29
  7. Pennsylvania: 1.37
  8. California: 1.67
  9. DC: 1.74
  10. Minnesota: 1.98
Source: State of the Garbage in America Report by BioCycle (2010)

What influences this indicator?

The residential diversion rate is influenced by the amount of materials consumed and waste generated by District residents as well as the portion of recyclable materials that residents choose to recycle. The cost of waste removal (which is free for single family homes and small residential buildings in the District) and the quality of apartment and condominium building managers’ recycling programs may influence recycling rates. The use of supplemental waste collection programs (such as e-recycling, yard waste collection, and bulk trash removal) is also important to increasing the District’s diversion rate. Factors that affect the District-wide landfill diversion rate include the recycling rates of residences, commercial businesses, industry, and government offices as well as the cost of waste removal and recycling. 

What you can do to help:

  • The best strategy for reducing waste is to only use things that are necessary. Buy products in bulk that have less packaging, or products that are reusable.
  • Donate items you no longer want to thrift stores or charitable organizations, or sell them online.
  • Recycle household items such as newspapers, aluminum, plastic, glass, and steel cans.
  • Look on the bottom of items for the symbol indicating an item is recyclable. If you have a question about whether or not an item can be recycled, consult this online list for specific information. Don’t assume that some unconventional items can’t be recycled—even plastic lawn furniture, laundry baskets, and flower pots can be recycled in the District! Remember that the District has a single stream recycling system so all recyclable materials can be stored in the same container for pick-up. See the links section below for websites with additional information about recycling programs.  

Links to Related Programs


District of Columbia Residential Recycling Program  

District of Columbia Bulk Trash Collection Program  

2009 Public Report on Recycling Report       

Other Links 

DDOE’s Tips to Reduce Your Waste  

Sell or recycle your old gadgets

DPW 2008 Residential Waste Sort Report  

EPA Wastes Page   

EPA Recycling Page  

EPA Landfills Page  

City of San Francisco’s Landfill Diversion 

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Recycling Page for Kids 

Northeast Recycling Council Environmental Benefits Calculator 

District of Columbia Department of Public Works’ Facebook Page  

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