Policy Study

Too Little Too Late? Host Community Benefits and Siting Solid Waste Facilities

Executive Summary

Most states have established recycling mandates and goals to divert waste away from landfills. These goals have not, however, once and for all solved our waste problems. Even if U.S. cities and counties attain waste diversion and recycling goals, they will still need to handle millions of tons of waste in disposal facilities, including landfills. Yet notin- my-backyard (NIMBY) sentiment has slowed, or even prevented the siting of new waste facilities. Use of host-community benefit packages can help overcome local opposition, resulting in siting of landfills to meet future disposal capacity needs.

Top-down siting of facilities simply is not acceptable to local residents. Host-community benefits (HCBs) introduce market-like decision-making processes that allow local citizens to make choices about whether, where, and how a disposal facility is sited. A 1990 survey by Cornell Waste Management Institute of New York residents revealed that 86 percent believed that HCB packages were useful in the siting process. Another survey of 565 New York residents showed the importance of both financial compensation and environmental protection measures in siting negotiations.

HCBs internalize costs by compensating local residents for any real or perceived harms or losses they experience when a landfill is sited. Moreover, negotiations over the size of HCBs help generate answers to legitimate scientific, economic, and local welfare concerns. Finally, HCBs institutionalize citizen choice.

State legislation can help foster use of HCBs. One state, New Jersey, requires that any community hosting a waste disposal site receive at least $1 per ton of landfilled waste and allows for compensation agreements above that amount. Five other states have legislation to encourage or require compensation and/or enhanced citizen participation in the siting process.

Public and private-sector use of HCBs, while no guarantee that siting of waste disposal facilities will occur, can smooth the process.

Taking the long view reminds us of one more often-overlooked truth about garbage: Ever since governments began facing up to their responsibilities, the story of the garbage problem in the West has been one of steady amelioration, of bad giving way to less bad and eventually to not too bad. To be able to complain about the garbage problems that persist is, by past standards, something of a luxury. [William Rathje, “Rubbish!” The Atlantic Monthly, December 1989.]


Dr. Rodney Fort, an associate professor of economics at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, is the author of numerous papers on regulatory decision making. His interests in environmental problems include local perceptions and NIMBY sentiment, the origins of risk attitudes, and siting locally (on net) desirable waste management facilities. Lynn Scarlett is Vice President of Research at the Reason Foundation, a nonprofit public policy research organization in Los Angeles, California. Ms. Scarlett has written a number of policy studies on solid waste management and recycling issues.

Lynn Scarlett is Executive Director of Reason Public Policy Institute. She is the author of numerous articles and studies on environmental policy, including New Environmentalism, published by the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis, and "Evolutionary Ecology," in Reason magazine, May 1996. She served as Chair of the National Environmental Policy Institute's "How Clean Is Clean" Working Group and was a member of the Enterprise for Environment Task Force, chaired by William Ruckelshaus. She chairs California's Inspection and Maintenance Review Committee, charged with evaluating California's vehicle Smog Check program.