The Transylvania Times -

Talking Trash: A Visit To The County Landfill

 
Series: Talking Trash | Story 2

September 27, 2018

A view of the landfill from the top of a previously closed cell. (Times photos by Willow Walker)

As noted last week, The Transylvania Times is publishing a series of articles that will provide an in-depth look at what happens to the waste and recyclable materials that are discarded in Transylvania County.

Since roughly 81 percent of materials discarded in the county in the last year were deposited in the landfill for the long term, it seemed like the best place to start our series.

I visited our county landfill for the first time this August, located at 500 Howell Road in Brevard.

There are two ways to get to the landfill: from the Rosman side on Old Toxaway Road or from U.S. 64 via Woodruff Road.

It was fascinating. Kenn Webb, the new Transylvania County Solid Waste director, provided a tour of the facility and valuable information about the history and future plans for the 700-acre site.

If you haven't visited the landfill yourself, you might be in for a surprise. The views at the top of the surrounding mountaintops are exceptionally beautiful, sans garbage.

Even the receiving areas are nicely manicured and largely free of trash, which was an unexpected surprise.

Landfill Construction

The landfill was opened in 1991, with the first of six "cells" planned for the site.

A cell is a confined area that is engineered and designed to hold waste and manage the leachates (i.e., liquids) and gases that are present in landfills long term.

Each cell consists of 18 inches of compacted clay soil as the base, with a 60-mL high-density polyethylene plastic lining covering the clay.

The plastic is so heavy, it takes bulldozers to lay it out. Heat is used to seal or weld the seams between the individual plastic liner sheets.

Then, a 16-ounce layer of geotextile material is added, along with 24 inches of gravel, which provides a place for pipes capturing and diverting leachate out of the system.

Once all that is in place, a cell is ready to receive materials (i.e., garbage). At first, only bagged household waste can be placed in the bottom of the cell, and the equipment drivers who spread and compact the bagged materials evenly across the cell floor have to be extremely careful not to damage the lining and leachate pipes.

Once the first five feet or so of bagged waste is in, any type of discarded materials can be safely disposed of in the cell, including construction debris, furniture and other bulky materials.

Currently, the county is on Cell #5, and the total area comprised of all five cells is roughly 20 acres.

Due to the uneven, mountainous terrain, the depth of each cell varies but can be anywhere from 20 feet to 50 feet deep of compacted waste.

At the end of each day, by law, new waste added to the cell must be covered by an alternate cover, currently a very large and heavy tarp. And, at least once a week, usually over the weekend, the recently deposited waste must be covered with 6 inches of dirt.

The dirt is removed again to add the next layer of waste, and this process continues until each cell has reached its permitted capacity. The Solid Waste Section of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) oversees the permitting, sizing and compliance for landfill cells and operations.

Once each cell reaches its permitted capacity, it is covered with the same layers of materials as the base to completely seal the cell against water and the environment. Imagine a flying saucer or a peanut M&M as examples of items with a similar "waterproof" outer shell all the way around. The idea is to keep the materials buried inside from decomposing, which can create shifts in the material, methane gas and affect the long-term stability of each cell.

Materials Inside the Landfill

Most people think that food, paper and compostable products will break down or decompose in a landfill, but this is not the desired outcome.

A landfill is designed to lock out air and water, which are needed to break down organic materials.

The goal is to keep all materials in an inert, static state, so the landfill surface doesn't shift over time, methane and other greenhouse gases are not generated, and leachate (liquid) volumes from the landfill are reduced for less costly long-term manage-ment.

I once heard a story of a landfill study that illustrates this point. A landfill was drilled to extract materials buried for 30-plus years, to see what would actually happen to materials buried over a long period of time.

According to the study and confirmed by a local source, a newspaper was unearthed that had been buried for almost 40 years.

It handled like it was brand new and had just come off the newspaper stand. Next to it was a hotdog, which had not degraded at all.

The reason? The landfill had operated as designed, preventing air and water from reaching these materials, keeping them in a static form for decades.

In an effort to extend the landfill's life span and reduce the breakdown of organic materials anaerobically (without oxygen), Transyl-vania County collects and stores trees, leaves and other yard waste separately and away from the landfill. This type of material is accepted for a lower fee than waste, and will eventually be ground into wood chips or mulch-like material.

North Carolina has also mandated a ban on additional materials in an effort to prevent damage to the landfill, safeguard the environment over time and ensure materials such as aluminum are available for recycling.

Volume, Life and Economics of the Landfill

Since March 2008, a total of 231,825 tons have been deposited in the Transylvania County landfill, an average of 23,183 tons each fiscal year (July – June). Given that average, it is estimated that over a half million tons have been deposited in the landfill since it opened in 1991. Between July 2017 and June 2018, the total amount of materials added to the landfill was 23,907 tons, slightly above the average.

As of July 2018, the remaining life span of the Transylvania County landfill is nine years and four months. This includes plans for Cell #6, the last cell on the currently permitted site.

As required by N.C. General Statute, the county has set aside more than $3.3 million to pay for the landfill closure, monitoring and maintenance for 30 years after the closing, and an additional minimum of $2 million to cover "potential assessment and corrective action (PACA) at the facility." These funds will continue to increase and are being held in reserve until the landfill closure begins, and cannot be used for any other purpose.

In addition to the landfill, the county offers three collection centers where county residents can drop off recycling for free, or bagged materials for $1.50 per bag. A total of 21 county staff are employed at the four combined locations.

Daily operations, staff salaries and benefits, equipment, fuel, and all other expenses related to the operation of the landfill and county collection centers are funded through the county's Solid Waste Enterprise Fund. The fund receives revenues generated by disposal fees, sale of recyclable materials, container rentals, hauler permits and white goods distributions.

"As an Enterprise Fund, the Transylvania County Solid Waste objective is to be net zero on impact to Transylvania County," Webb said. "Costs of running the facility, including the purchase of heavy equipment, engineering services, site planning for long term and leachate disposal all plays a part in Transylvania County costs."

In reality, the county has had to provide additional funding of $6,735,822 to the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund to cover costs related to waste and other discarded materials since 2008. The actual amount varies by year from $375,000 at its lowest to $972,139 at its highest. This is one reason why disposal fees for solid waste have increased from $50 to $60 per ton since 2014.

Webb said, "Solid waste in Transylvania County beyond the current landfill lifespan is the subject of current analysis by solid waste staff, with details expected by April 2019."

Although the acreage exists for expansion at the current landfill property, it sits atop a mountain full of rocks that will need to be blasted and moved, with less than enough clay to line and cover new landfill cells, which will add to the cost. And, at the current rate of disposal in Transylvania County, this new landfill expansion will need to be in place in the next 10 years.

A leachate tank is in the foreground, with the current active Cell #5 directly behind and to left of the tank. Previously filled closed cells are pictured behind and above the active cell. Cell #5 will eventually be filled in and brought to the same height as the closed cells behind it. Once approved and permitted, Cell #6 will be located directly on top of the previous closed cells 1-5, dependent on compaction surveys and other site considerations.

In an effort to encourage reduction of waste through reuse and recycling, and extend the life of the landfill, therefore keeping costs down for residents, the county implemented a "pay-as-you-throw" program that has been in use as far back as 1994. For $1.50 per bag, or 20 stickers for $25, Transylvania County residents can dispose of materials in 33-gallon "kitchen-sized" bags, up to 30 pounds per bag, at all locations.

Materials accepted for recycling can be dropped off for free at all locations.

It is interesting to note that the sign at the entrance of the landfill, encourages landfill users to "recycle for the life of your community."

(We'll examine the economics of recycling in Transylvania next Thursday.)

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