2023’s Dirtiest Cities in America: Where Wisconsin’s Rank

By Christina Lorey
January 31, 2023

City living has its advantages, but more people usually means more pollution, more trash, more rats, and more problems. And not all cities are created equal.

Lawnstarter collected data from the country’s biggest to rank them from cleanest (#152) to dirtiest (#1). Criteria included: air quality index, percentage of smokers, population density, unsheltered homeless rate, number of junk yards, number of recycling collectors, and consumer satisfaction.

What They Found

Milwaukee ranked as the 68th dirtiest city in America (of 152 overall). Wisconsin’s biggest city was also the 43rdmost-polluted in the country.

Madison came in as the 124th dirtiest city, or better put, the 29th cleanest. The Capital City was also the 78th most-polluted: in the middle of the pack.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, Detroit (4th), Cincinnati (50th), Cleveland (57th), Akron (65th), and Toledo (67th) all ranked lower (dirtier) than Milwaukee.

Des Moines (149th), Columbus (137th), St. Paul (133rd), Minneapolis (131st), and Grand Rapids (128th) all ranked higher (cleaner) than Madison. 

Overall, Houston was rated the dirtiest city in America, while Virginia Beach was the cleanest.

The Bright Side

Milwaukee was tied for the lowest tonnage of landfill waste per 100,000 residents.

And overall, Wisconsin cities are doing a pretty good job of keeping their air, streets, and waterways clean. Groups like Clean Wisconsin are also helping– preserving the state’s water, air, and natural heritage and working with the Evers administration to shape public policy.

Click here for 10 things YOU can do today to help your city stay clean.


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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