Not a lot to worry about here this year: As long as there's garbage, municipal solid waste (MSW) managers will have a job.

The issues you'll face this year, however, are where that garbage is going and how its treatment is changing. As recycling grows, the amount of waste sent to landfills is dropping. So the waste is still there, but it's being handled differently.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generated 245.7 million tons of MSW in 2005, a drop of 1.6 million tons from 2004. Recycling increased by 2%, an increase of 1.2 million tons to 58.4 million tons. Composting rose slightly to 20.6 million tons (a negligible increase over the previous year).

Recycling is on the rise. Single-stream recycling—common in many areas—will continue to increase as cities face higher tipping fees from private landfills, more stringent environmental regulations, and a push toward more “green” processes. Cities are diverting money saved on tipping fees to recycling and composting programs to decrease the number of trucks sent to landfills, thus lowering overall tipping fees.

Waste-to-energy (WTE) will increase, though the number of new facilities will remain stagnant. There's renewed interest in harvesting landfill byproducts, due mainly to the growing appreciation of the link between MSW and energy. Many facilities are meeting their bond maturity, so the “mortgage” has essentially been paid, allowing operators to try out new technologies and invest more in capital equipment. By retrofitting furnaces and implementing other conversion technologies, landfills and other waste facilities can take advantage of tax credits and selling off their energy.

Conversion technologies become more popular in wake of skyrocketing energy prices. Pyrolysis and gasification offer more opportunities for recovering products from waste than incineration. Other benefits include less MSW being sent to landfills and lowered methane and other emissions.

St. Lucie County, Fla., for example, announced last fall that it will build a $425 million plasma-arc gasification facility, eliminating the need for a landfill and generating energy for nearby industry. It will be the first such plant in the nation operating on such a massive scale and the largest in the world.

Rising fuel prices, changing engine standards. The price of fuel—whether it's gas or an alternative fuel—continues to rise, putting a dent in fleets managers' pocketbooks. Emissions standards for model year 2007 on-road vehicles were tightened; 2010 will see more stringent standards. See the “fleets” section on page 33 for more information.

Flow control may change. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that flow control—state or local laws, regulations, and economic incentives or disincentives that direct where MSW should be processed or disposed—violates the “dormant” Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Since that decision, several exceptions to this general principle have developed. These exceptions, and their application to specific circumstances involving MSW, continue to be argued in the courts.

In arguments beginning this month, the Supreme Court will determine the constitutionality of flow control. The verdict, due in June, could cause dramatic changes in where waste is hauled, since hauling across state lines might be cheaper or more efficient for some municipalities. The case, United Haulers Association Inc. v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, dates back more than a decade. The issue is whether the counties can direct trash flow. The local laws were struck down by a federal court but then upheld by a federal appeals court, according to the National Solid Wastes Management Association.

Transfer station siting along rail lines. In the Northeast, private firm Chartwell International Inc. has bought a rail line and the property along it, intending to construct and operate a transfer station there. Due to the siting of these waste disposal and offload facilities, the company believes it is exempt from environmental or site plan oversight, prompting local officials to take the issue to court. Depending on the court's decision, siting of transfer stations and their EPA oversight could take on a whole new meaning.

The placed-in-service window may expire at the end of the year. The Section 45 Renewable Electricity Production Credit (REPC), commonly referred to as the Production Tax Credit, is a per-kilowatt-hour federal tax credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended the credit through Dec. 31, 2007. The REPC originally funded only wind, closed-loop biomass, and poultry waste, but now includes landfill gas and MSW combustion.