Landfill Hunter: Learning about Waste through Public Participation

Nicholas E. Johnson, François Grey


Landfills are the most ubiquitous and expedient means of waste disposal, prevailing over any economic, logistic or political obstacles.  Landfills, however, are far removed from most of society and their administration, operation and maintenance are often opaque.  This research uses public participation to generate, verify and enhance existing data about the size and location of current landfills in the US while simultaneously providing users an innovative way to see and explore landfills.  An online crowdsourcing tool, Landfill Hunter, was built to facilitate participation and populated with data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Participants identified a total of 729 landfills.  Using this data, we estimate the area of individual landfills and calculate the cumulative land area of landfills in the US, which is approximately twice the size of New York City. In this paper, we emphasize learning outcomes that participation in this crowdsourcing initiative can generate, both online and offline, as well as creative ways that participants can visualize the resulting data.


Landfills; Croudsourcing; Online Learning; Cyberlab

Full Text:



Albrecht, F, Zussner, M, and Perger, C. (2014). Using Student Volunteers to Crowdsource Land Cover Information. Geospatial

Innovation for Society 2014 (2014), 314–317. DOI:

Barrett, A and Lawlor, J. (1995). The Economics of solid waste management in Ireland. Economic and Social Research Institute.

Beigl, P, Lebersorger, S, and Salhofer, S. (2008). Modelling municipal solid waste generation: A review. Waste Management 28 (2008), 200–214. DOI:

Bergeson, L. L. (2003). ECHO: Enforcement online, up close, and real personal. Environmental Quality Management 12, 4 (2003),

–84. DOI:

Buckley, C and Ramzy, A. (2015). Before Shenzhen Landslide, Many Saw Warning Signs as Debris Swelled. (Dec 2015). http:

// shenzhen- china.html?

Carnes, S, Schweitzer, M, and Peelle, E. (1998). Measuring the success of public participation on environmental restoration and waste management activities in the US Department of Energy. Technology in Society 20, 1998 (1998), 385–406. http://www.sciencedirect. com/science/article/pii/S0160791X98000244

Clery, D. (2011). Galaxy Zoo volunteers share pain and glory of research. Science 333, 6039 (2011), 173–175. DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6039.173

Conrad, C. C and Hilchey, K. G. (2011). A review of citizen science and community-based environmental monitoring: Issues and oppor- tunities. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 176, 1-4 (2011), 273–291. DOI:

Danielsson, M. (2014). Mapping informal and formal recycling sites and flows: Nicaragua to Boston. (2014). notes/MollyDanielsson/10- 10- 2014/mapping- in- formal- and- formal- recycling- sites- and- flows- nicaragua- to- boston

Dittus, M, Quattrone, G, and Capra, L. (2016). Analysing Volunteer Engagement in Humanitarian Mapping: Building Contributor Communities at Large Scale. In Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW ’16). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 108–118. DOI:

Eiselt, H. (2007). Locating landfills, Optimization vs. reality. European Journal of Operational Research 179, 3 (2007), 1040–1049. DOI:

Foody, G. M, See, L, Fritz, S, Van der Velde, M, Perger, C, Schill, C, and Boyd, D. S. (2013). Assessing the Accuracy of Volunteered Geographic Information arising from Multiple Contributors to an Internet Based Collaborative Project. Transactions in GIS 17, 6 (2013), 847–860. DOI:

Fung, B. (2013). The Shutdown is now clogging up the data economy. Thanks, Congress! (2013). news/the- switch/wp/2013/10/03/the- shutdown- is- now- clogging- up- the- data- economy- thanks- congress/

Herrington, J, Oliver, R, and Reeves, T. C. (2003). Patterns of engagement in authentic online learning environments. Australian Journal of Educational Technology 19, 1 (2003), 58–71. DOI:

Iacovides, I, Jennett, C, Cornish-Trestrail, C, and Cox, A. L. (2013). Do games attract or sustain engagement in citizen science?: a study of volunteer motivations. CHI EA ’13: CHI ’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (2013), 1101. DOI:

Jennett, C and Cox, A. L. (2014). Eight Guidelines for Designing Virtual Citizen Science Projects. (2014). index.php/HCOMP/HCOMP14/paper/view/9261

Johnson, N. (2013). Data and the Government Shutdown. (2013).

Kloetzer, L, Schneider, D, Jennett, C, Iacovides, I, Eveleigh, A, Cox, A, and Gold, M. (2014). Learning by volunteer computing, thinking and gaming: What and how are volunteers learning by participating in Virtual Citizen Science? Changing Configurations of Adult Education in Transitional Times (2014), 73.

Koelsch, F, Fricke, K, Mahler, C, and Damanhuri, E. (2005). Stability of landfills-The Bandung dumpsite disaster. In Proceedings Sardinia.

Kubásek, M and Hrebícek, J. (2013). Crowdsource Approach for Mapping of Illegal Dumps in the Czech Republic. International Journal of Spatial Data Infrastructures Research 8 (2013), 144–157. DOI:

Mazon, P. R. (2014). Defiende el territorio desde el aire. (2014). documentacion- territorio- desde- aire- publiclab

Opp, S. (2011). Bureaucratic Discretion and Political Control of the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA). International Journal of Public Administration 34, 12 (2011), 753–763. DOI:

Robbins, S. J, Antonenko, I, Kirchoff, M. R, Chapman, C. R, Fassett, C. I, Herrick, R. R, Singer, K, Zanetti, M, Lehan, C, Huang, D, and others, . (2014). The variability of crater identification among expert and community crater analysts. Icarus 234 (2014), 109–131.

Tarr, J. A. (1985). Historical perspectives on Hazardous Wastes in the United States. Waste Management & Research September 1984 (1985), 3–41.

Taylor, R and Allen, A. (2006). Waste disposal and landfill: information needs.

Tharoor, I. (2016). A huge garbage fire in India’s biggest city was so bad you could see it from space. (February 2016). a-huge-garbage-fire-in-indias-biggest-city-was-so-bad-you-could-see-it-from-space/ [Online; posted 03-February-2016].

The US Environmental Protection Agency, . (1996). List of Municipal Solid Waste Landfills.

The US Environmental Protection Agency, . (2014). Municipal Solid Waste Generation , Recycling , and Disposal in the United States Tables and Figures for 2012. Number February. 63 pages.

Van Haaren, R and Themelis, Nickolas, Goldstein, N. (2010). The state of garbage in America. Biocycle 51, 10 (2010), 16–23.

Wade, B. H and Bullard, R. D. (1991). Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality. Contemporary Sociology 20, 6

(1991), 911. DOI:

Wood, C, Sullivan, B, Iliff, M, Fink, D, and Kelling, S. (2011). eBird: Engaging birders in science and conservation. PLoS Biology 9, 12 (2011). DOI:



  • There are currently no refbacks.