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A few miles north of Springfield along Highway 13 is a necessary part of our community—the place where no-longer-needed items go to die. The Noble Hill Landfill opened in 1975. It’s one of a few landfills the city of Springfield has operated—the Sac River Landfill and the Fulbright Landfill were open in the 1950s to the early 70s, according to Erick Roberts, environmental technician with the city.
On average, between 600 and 650 tons of trash per day are brought to the Noble Hill Landfill—trash haulers and individuals in the Springfield area dump garbage there—you pay $28.65 per ton with a $20 minimum fee.
When you step out of your vehicle—and sometimes before—the first thing you notice is the overwhelming odor—and it’s not pleasant. That’s from the methane that’s produced from the decomposing trash. Red clay mud is everywhere.
Bulldozers are working to push dumped trash onto the working face of the landfill, and a machine with spiked wheels, called a landfill trash compacter, chews the material up into smaller pieces and gets it packed as tightly into the landfill as possible. According to Roberts, landfills are permitted based on volume or air space so the more waste workers can fit into that air space, the more economically-viable the operation. And long-term care problems are reduced.
Subtitle D landfills—modern landfills in the U.S.—have a liner on the bottom and another on the type, which Roberts says is called a dry tomb theory…
"Basically, you've built a giant Ziploc baggie for lack of a better comparison, and you've removed the air and you've removed the water, and decomposition happens in that scenario, but it happens very, very slowly."
What many people may not think about when they throw away their recyclable bottles or cans is that the landfill isn’t going to last forever. Roberts says if they stay at the current intake rate, there is currently enough permitted space to last another 20-25 years. But if more people start to recycle, the life of the landfill would be extended…
"We take in 600-650 tons per day, and you know, if you do the math and all of a sudden tomorrow 50% of that material was recycled, our 20-25 years of room would basically double."
He welcomes the chance to talk to school groups and anyone who wants to visit the landfill. He hopes that will encourage more people to think about where their trash goes…
"We're trying to really push that education component and get people to see that, you know, that, long-term, we are going to have to do something with this material. When it leaves your curb it doesn't just, you know, go away and become somebody else's problem. It's still a problem for the citizens of Springfield to deal with eventually."
Waste sorts have been done at the landfill, and Roberts says they find a lot of material that could have been recycled if people had just taken a little bit of time to take it to one of the city’s recycling sites or paid their trash hauler to pick it up. It takes a long time for trash to break down once it’s buried. According to Roberts, workers excavated some material at the landfill in 2002 and found a newspaper that could be read in its entirety-the date on the newspaper? 1975…
"And that also, you know, reiterates the fact that once a landfill is constructed, be it here or anywhere in the country, there will be someone responsible for tending to that facility for many, many years after it's at its capacity."
The permitted area at the landfill is 180 acres—the city owns around 1100 acres including an office, a shop and buffer property. The city might someday expand the permitted area there, but Roberts hopes that, by educating the public, it will be a long time before they have to do that…
"We'd really like to see some results from that education component and some of the other components kick in rather than do that."
Join us tomorrow morning (10/4) at 7:30 on KSMU for part two of our Tracking Trash Series as we look at the city’s recycling program—find out how much material is collected each year at the city’s recycling sites and where that material goes. Wednesday morning (10/5) we’ll look at how the methane produced at the landfill is being used for good and find out about a proposed greenhouse project at the landfill.
For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.