Amy Densborn

Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Earth System Science & Policy

First Advisor

Rebecca Romsdahl


Rural North Dakota is behind the times for establishing an economically and socially beneficial method for collecting recyclables from residents, and in some areas providing sustainable trash removal. As the waste stream continues to grow, so will the burdens on our landfills, our resources and our environment for generations to come. An even worse alternative to landfilling garbage is the use of burn barrels, which release dioxins into the local environment, settling on vegetation and waterways and further bio-accumulate in the food chain. Rural residents currently do not have conveniently located or affordable disposal options for household generated waste and forced to burn the garbage in a burn barrel.

The purpose of this study was to gain insights into the current perceptions and level of satisfaction regarding the current waste and recycling options that are available in rural communities. Identification of residents’ attitudes and behaviors were examined through a statewide survey and from the responses, recommendations for policy are provided to make waste disposal more sustainable and recycling more readily available. To gain insights on the current infrastructure options, interviews among transfer station operators were conducted to assess the disconnect between residents’ knowledge of a station existence. Waste generation rates from each landfill from the years 2006-2014 were used in a comparative analysis with gross domestic product to assess how efficiently waste is being handled relative to economic growth with the recent oil boom.

Based on the results of the survey, 60% of residents are participating in some form of recycling and would like to see more convenient and affordable options provided. The majority of respondents expressed willingness to pay for those additional services as well. About a quarter of the respondents admitted to burning their garbage because they do not currently have an affordable disposal option and 41% are not concerned with the health effects of burning trash. This indicates a need for improved educational campaigns that deter backyard burning, in addition to providing more drop-off locations for recycling. These findings provide an interesting insight into the motivations and perceptions regarding waste and recycling strategies within rural North Dakota. The results should be utilized when developing future waste management policies and expanding the network of recycling drop-off stations to more communities.