Landfills: considering the alternative

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Courtesy of Waste Advantage Magazine

The economic side of landfill management isn’t easy. Essentially there is a “product” being sold— airspace. Revenue is generated through tipping fees charged per ton. The more garbage taken in, the more income earned. From that perspective, selling space is good. However, as more garbage is taken in, less space remains and the landfill’s lifespan decreases.

The problem is that space is not renewable. More airspace can be “manufactured” by building more cells or new locations, but these options aren’t always viable due to expense, regulations or other factors. Even with new areas, every cell and landfill will fill up eventually.

The only solution is making the most of available airspace to stay open as long as possible. But while most landfill operators realize the importance of common space-saving measures, such as compaction, many fail to recognize that trash isn’t the only thing filling up landfills.

In many cases, landfills lose airspace by using dirt as daily cover, as opposed to employing alternative daily cover (ADC) options that take up much less space than the soil layer required to cap a landfill’s daily refuse intake. ADC not only preserves valuable airspace, but also brings financial benefits through lower operating costs. The economic impact of ADC is a big reason why companies have invested in producing ADC materials, and why its use is gaining momentum.

The Dirt on Dirt
Another way to look at a landfill’s basic economic situation is as a balancing act that can’t really be balanced. Even if a landfill implemented guidelines to curb its intake to extend its life expectancy, this would subsequently diminish income. Landfills will never be able to have it both ways. But where landfills can achieve more balance and space efficiency is in the application of daily cover.

Federal and state regulations require that landfills cover their solid waste at the end of each day with six inches of dirt, if that’s what is being used as cover material. Four inches isn’t enough. Two inches? Not even close. A half-foot thick layer of soil is required to provide enough of a seal to hold trash in place and contain noxious odors.

This six-inch thickness represents a gross imbalance in the way space is being used on the landfill, particularly since many landfills will actually wind up spreading more tons of dirt per day than they will bring in trash. So why would a landfill continue to use up so much valuable space—in some cases more than 50-percent—on capping material alone? Even if the discrepancy is less drastic, say 80 percent trash and 20 percent dirt, there are more efficient ADC alternatives that can further optimize airspace usage.

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