Dumptown, USA: Making a Ton of Difference


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trashImagine that you, your neighbors and everyone in the United States put all of your trash in one big pile for a year. That would be a big pile of garbage! The federal government estimates that each person throws away about 4.5 pounds of trash per day.

For many years, most of our trash went to landfills. But many of the landfills are filling up. This is causing the cost of using landfills to soar and forcing many communities to raise fees or taxes to pay for the additional costs. Landfills are no longer an easy answer for getting rid of all the trash we generate.

In some communities, the waste goes to an incinerator that burns it and recovers energy. Incinerators reduce the volume of waste, but landfills are still needed to bury the ash that results from the burning. Both incinerators and landfills are expensive and can take a long time to locate and build. 

Because of these problems, many communities now are looking for other solutions. There is no simple remedy for solving our trash problems, but one that many communities have considered is recycling which reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfills and incinerators. (The federal government defines recycling as the separating, collecting, processing, marketing and ultimately, using a material that would otherwise have been thrown away. For example, turning plastic bottles into plastic chairs is an example of recycling. Don't confuse recycling with reuse which only requires repair or clean-up before an item is put back into use. In the past, glass beverage bottles were frequently reused. They were collected and sanitized then refilled.) Recycling can also help conserve our scarce natural resources because it reduces the need for raw materials.

According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about one-third of our trash was recycled in 2006. A little more than half was transported to a landfill. The rest was incinerated.


piechartIn the activities that follow, you will learn what "stuff" is contributing to our nation's solid waste problem. You will then explore recycling options that communities may use for reducing sold waste. You will be asked to take on the job of city manager for a community named "Dumptown." wants to become "Recycle City." Like most governments, Dumptown can't adopt all the programs it might like to have. It can't afford to do everything, so you will have to make choices about which recycling progrmas to use. An analysis of marginal cost and marginal benefit will help you make the most of the city's limited funding for recycling programs.


Activity: What’s in Our Trash?

How much do you know about the trash that is thrown away in the United States? Click on What's In Our Trash to test your knowledge.



  1. What is the largest source of trash in our nation?
  2. Did this surprise you?
  3. What was the second largest source of trash?
  4. What kind of things do you think might be included in the “other” category?

Activity: Dumptown Recycles

Concerned about the cost of getting rid of garbage and its negative impact on the environment, many local communities have set goals to do more recycling. Dumptown is just such a place. A few years ago, the residents of Dumptown didn’t think much about the waste they threw out. Garbage trucks picked up the trash and took it away. trashBut now the residents of Dumptown have decided they want to recycle more of their solid waste.

The Dumptown City Council members have visited other communities and identified ten different ways in which they can increase recycling at home. As the new city manager, you have been asked to choose Dumptown’s new recycling programs.

Like most communities, Dumptown's financial resources are limited. The city won't be able to implement all of the ideas that are on the City Council's recycling wish list. You will have to make choices that take into consideration the marginal benefit and marginal cost each option. The marginal benefit is the additional tons of trash recycled as each new program is introduced. The marginal cost is the dollar cost of introducing a new program. Marginal Benefit is the additional gain from consuming or producing one more unit of a good or service; can be measured in dollars or satisfaction. Marginal Cost is the increase in a producer's total cost when it increases its output by one unit. Your job is to select the programs that increase the recycling of solid waste for the lowest cost.

This worksheet will help you do your job. Before you start, read these directions which will tell you more about playing the Dumptown Game. Pay special attention to the section that tells you how to find the costs and benefits of each recycling option.

Now you are ready to play!

Can you convert Dumptown into Recycle City?


Recycling is one very important remedy to the garbage problem our nation faces. It's an effective solution because it reduces the amount of waste that must be processed. It also helps conserve our scarce natural resources by reducing our use of raw materials.

When deciding whether they will recycle, local communities must weigh the benefits of programs with their costs. Marginal analysis provides a tool for analyzing the most cost-effective solutions. Discuss and respond to the questions in this activity to show what you have learned in this lesson.

  1. Which of the Dumptown programs provided consumers with an economic incentive to reduce their waste?
  2. Dumptown has decided it will commit $75,000 to recycling programs. Where will this money come from?
  3. What else do you think may have happened in Dumptown as the various recycling programs were put into place?


You will be assessed based on your completion of the worksheet, your ability to maximize the Dumptown's recycling, given its financial constraints.


1. Want to know more about what the people in Dumptown did to change the image of their city? Visit this web page [ www.mrphome.net/RecycleCity/print/textonly.htm ] that takes you on a tour of the city and shows how residents now recycle, reuse, and reduce waste.

2. Read The Adventures of the Garbage Gremlin [www.epa.gov/epawaste/education/kids/gremlin/page2a.htm ]. Then develop a plan for your school or community to encourage more recycling. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers all kinds of tips and advice. Here is a good place to start [http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/citizens.htm] looking for ideas.

3. When the city officials in Dumptown analyzed the waste reduction of their proposed recycling programs, they looked at the weight of the garbage. The federal government has switched to a different measure. Read about the change on this web page [www.eia.doe.gov/kids/energyfacts/saving/recycling/solidwaste/primer.html#MeasuringMunicipalSolidWaste ]. What is the new measure? Do you think it was a good idea to change to the new measure?