How Much Garbage Does New Jersey Generate? ‘You Can’t Really Comprehend’

In Garbage in the Garden State, Jordan P. Howell traces NJ's decades-long efforts to regulate and dispose of waste.

Split image featuring book cover of "Garbage in the Garden State" by Jordan P. Howell next to a headshot of Jordan P. Howell
Author Jordan P. Howell, right, has been studying and writing about waste for a dozen years. Cover design by David Drummond; headshot courtesy of Jordan P. Howell

Waste remains a weighty issue in New Jersey, both literally and figuratively. The state produced 21.8 million tons of solid waste in 2019.

“You can’t really comprehend the amount. It’s hard to wrap your head around it,” says Jordan P. Howell, author of Garbage in the Garden State (Rutgers University Press).

Due out April 14, the book traces New Jersey’s efforts over the decades to regulate and dispose of waste through landfills, recycling, incineration and composting, which Marie Kruzan, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Recyclers, recently told NJM is “the next frontier for recycling.”

Howell, an associate professor of sustainable business at Rowan University, examines the social, political and economic implications of waste disposal in the Garden State.

While New Jersey helped lead the way in recycling in the 1980s, economic factors have complicated matters. For instance, China no longer accepts many of America’s recycled goods.  

It’s an issue that won’t go away, as then-Governor Tom Kean noted in 1984: “Nobody likes garbage. Everyone creates it. Everyone must cope with it.”

Howell, a Haddon Township resident, has been studying and writing about waste for a dozen years. He believes solutions to waste disposal go beyond government actions.

“Managing the technical problems of waste and recycling are pretty well clear at this point, but that’s offering a cure,” he notes. “The problem…is the amount of waste folks generate in the first place. That’s almost totally dependent on behavior change.” 

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