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The Trash We Can't Recycle

Welcome to my world; the last place your trash ends up and the last place my grandma thought I would call a career. I proudly work at a Landfill. Landfills are not the solution to the war on waste: our primary goal should be to change our waste behavior and focus on reducing waste. But do you ever ask yourself, where does the left over trash end up, and do I take for granted that it will always have a place to go?

The word landfill sometimes gets a bad rap. It is commonly termed “The Dump,” but a landfill is not a dump - at least not anymore. Before 1976, all trash went to the local city dump: a dump is a site designated to depositing garbage. The problem lies in the fact that before 1976, nothing was in place to protect the environment at the time of disposal or with any regards to the future.

Since 1976, the EPA, and state and local regulations have turned dumps into an environmentally safe space to store mixed solid waste. These regulations require landfills to strategically plan, design, permit and engineer so that all landfills include the following requirements:

  • Install an industrial liner under, around and on top of the trash to protect groundwater.

  • Install a leachate (garbage water) collection system.

  • Have a State regulated methane gas collection system (i.e. Gas to Energy).

  • Monitor groundwater / air quality.

  • Have a post closure plan and funds to see it through 30 years.

Currently, Utah has 55 recorded landfills, and 28 are in active operation. By the year 2044, 15 Utah landfills are projected to close and 4 more will be filled to capacity by 2060.

Where will our garbage go when our local landfills are out of space?

One option for effective solid waste disposal is the use of transfer stations: your city may already be using one. Waste transfer stations are facilities where mixed solid waste is unloaded from collection vehicles and briefly held while it is reloaded into larger long-distance transport vehicles, and then shipped to landfills or other disposal facilities. By combining the loads of several individual waste collection trucks into a single shipment, communities can save money on labor and operating costs of transporting the waste to a distant disposal site. They can also reduce the total number of vehicular trips traveling to and from the disposal site.

While landfills and transfer stations are a safe alternative to the old dumps, wouldn’t it be ideal if we could reduce the amount of garbage that we throw away so that we don’t run out of space and need to transport our trash to a regional landfill? Keep in mind, landfilling is the very last solution: before picking up an item to use or buy, consider these waste reduction R’s in this order:

  • Rethink

  • Refuse

  • Reduce

  • Reuse

  • Repair

  • Repurpose

  • Rot

In summary, I will make good on the family name and make my grandma proud. Working around trash has taught me a lot about human behavior, consumption, irresponsible convenience, economic markets and the importance of being accountable for the trash I create.


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