The U.S. generates about 370 million short tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) each year. In 2002, an average of 26.9% of this material was either recycled or composted. Of the remainder, an estimated 242 million short tons were disposed of in landfills and about 29 million short tons were combusted in Waste to Energy (WTE) facilities to produce electricity and scrap metal. Effective management of MSW is becoming increasingly challenging, especially in densely populated regions, such as New York City, where there is little or no landfill capacity and the tipping fees have doubled and tripled in recent years. There is also a growing appreciation of the environmental implications of landfills. Even with modern landfill construction, impacts remain from the need for transfer stations to handle putrescible wastes, their transport to distant landfills, and finally landfill gas emissions and potential aqueous run-off. Environmental impacts of concern associated with disposal in WTEs include air emissions of metals, dioxins and greenhouse gases. In the U.S., there is also a strong negative public perception of WTE facilities. Decisions about waste management should be influenced by a consideration of the overall, quantified life-cycle environmental impacts of different options. In this paper we therefore develop a methodology to assess these impacts for landfilling and WTE waste management options. Specifically we attempt to compare these two options for New York City, a large urban area.

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