Iowa – Waste Disposal Surcharge

Iowa collects a base tonnage fee of $4.25 per ton on waste disposed of at municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills, which went into effect in 1987 via the Groundwater Protection Act of 1987 (presently Iowa State Code section 455B.310). Tonnage fee reports for Jan-Dec 2020 indicate $8 million in revenue. The assessed fees are collected locally and then remitted to the state. Landfill or transfer station operators submit fees quarterly alongside a tonnage report to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Facilities that specialize specifically in non-MSW wastes (such as construction and demolition debris, landscape waste, coal combustion waste, etc.) are not subject to the $4.25-per-ton base fee.

5. Solid waste disposal facilities with special provisions which limit the site to disposal of construction and demolition waste, landscape waste, coal combustion waste, cement kiln dust, foundry sand, and solid waste materials approved by the department for lining or capping, or for construction berms, dikes, or roads in a sanitary disposal project or sanitary landfill are exempt from the tonnage fees imposed under this section.”


A unique feature of Iowa’s disposal surcharge system is a waste diversion calculation  that raises or lowers the net per-ton surcharge fees in accordance with certain measures for individual Planning Areas.1 The fee rate that each landfill remits and retains is mostly based on the Planning Area’s waste diversion rate, with critical tiers at 25%, Iowa’s original waste reduction goal, 36%, the State’s waste reduction average, and 50%, Iowa’s current waste reduction goal

The table below indicates the various tonnage fee charges and amounts remitted and retained based on the above factors.

Iowa Disposal Surcharge Fee Schedule
Calculation and distribution of applicable landfill tonnage fees
Tonnage Fee Distribution Fact Sheet – 2018

Any retained tonnage fees must be used for comprehensive planning and environmental protection activities at the local level, including waste reduction, recycling, and small business pollution prevention purposes (section 455B.310).


DNR Financial Assistance Programs 

The tonnage fees remitted to DNR are collected in the Solid Waste Account of the Groundwater Protection Fund for DNR Operations and Statewide Program Support. The Solid Waste Account supports DNR operations pertaining to solid waste activities as well as about a dozen different DNR-administered programs for waste reduction, recycling, and development of solid waste alternatives. Many of these programs are administered by the Financial and Business Assistance (FABA) team at the DNR, which provides financial and technical assistance, supporting sustainable use of natural resources and effective waste management and pollution prevention activities.


Solid Waste Alternatives Program (SWAP)

The largest financial assistance program within the Solid Waste Account is the Solid Waste Alternatives Program (SWAP), which provides financial assistance in the form of forgivable loans, zero interest loans, and 3 percent interest loans for a variety of projects, including source reduction, recycling and education. Loans are awarded competitively to projects with an emphasis on tonnage avoided or reduced, sustainability, and ability to replicate, as well as priority given to projects addressing large or hard-to-manage waste streams. Any unit of local government, public or private group or individual is eligible to apply for program funds. 

Iowa’s DNR maintains a database of funded projects, in which numerous examples of projects focused on waste reduction, reuse, repair, recycling, composting, and more are documented. Some recently funded projects focused on avoiding food waste and supporting composting include:


Other Grant Programs

The Financial and Business Assistance (FABA) team administers a few other grant and financial assistance programs, including, but not limited to, a Food Storage Capacity Grant Initiative, awarding over $400,000 to 80 entities in 2020 and 2021 to expand food storage capacity, particularly cold food storage in order to avoid wasted food, as well as grant funds set aside for participants of the Solid Waste Environmental Management System (EMS) program (more information below).


Comprehensive Planning and the Environmental Management System (EMS) Program

Since the 1990s, Iowa has required cities and counties to use a Comprehensive Planning system of solid waste planning (IAC 567-101). Every five years, a city or county or group of cities and counties, referred to as a Planning Area, develops or updates their comprehensive solid waste reduction program plan (referred to as a comprehensive plan) in collaboration with the landfill(s) or other waste facilities that serve their area. These comprehensive plans evaluate the Planning Area’s waste management practices and their progress toward waste reduction goals. Comprehensive plans are required in order for Planning Areas to renew solid waste facility permits that serve their area. 

Alternatively, Iowa DNR offers a voluntary alternative to comprehensive planning requirements for planning areas called the Iowa Solid Waste Environmental Management System (EMS) Program (IAC 455J). Planning Areas can choose to apply to participate in the EMS program, which provides training and technical assistance for continuous improvement in six environmental program areas (ranging from recycling to water quality improvements to greenhouse gas reduction). Planning Areas participating in the EMS program are incentivized with a reduced base tonnage fee of $3.65/ton, in addition to a dedicated pool of grant funds and an exemption from certain state comprehensive planning requirements.

455J.5 Incentives.
1. A solid waste planning or service area designated as an environmental management system pursuant to section 455J.7 shall qualify for all of the following:
(a) An exemption from solid waste reduction goals imposed on solid waste planning or service areas pursuant to section 455D.3.
(b) A reduced tonnage fee of three dollars and sixty-five cents per ton, to be imposed as provided in section 455B.310, notwithstanding section 455B.310, subsection 2, of which two dollars and ten cents shall be remitted to the department.
(c) Financial assistance as approved by the commission pursuant to section 455J.7.
2. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, in addition to the incentives in subsection 1, a solid waste planning or service area designated as an environmental management system is exempt from filing its comprehensive plan.”


Moving Toward a New Vision for Iowa

In the process of reimagining their integrated solid waste management system, which has been in place for over 35 years, Iowa DNR has initiated a stakeholder-driven process called Sustainable Materials Management (SMM). SMM is a new approach of using and reusing materials most productively throughout their entire life cycles as a way to minimize impacts of materials and products. Iowa is now in its second planning phase of the process, aiming to establish a clear direction for implementing an SMM system with immediate, medium and long-term strategies.


More Information

1 A city or county or group of cities and counties preparing a comprehensive solid waste reduction program plan is referred to as a Planning Area. (Comprehensive Planning Area Map)


Original post from January 20, 2022

Avatar photo
Follow Sophia Jones:
Sophia Jones

Sophia Jones is the Policy Lead with ILSR’s Composting for Community initiative, where she researches, analyzes and supports the building of US policy that advances local composting. Her background in sustainable development and agriculture reflects her interest in solutions-based, community-led development initiatives.